Tag Archives: DC Comics

Justice League 2022 Annual #1

Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art and cover by: Sanford Greene
Colors by: Matt Herms and Sanford Greene

I like the fact that Brian Michael Bendis still writes superhero comic books. I know you could make the argument that his writing stopped being interesting a long time ago. He’s kept to his same signature style, dialogue-heavy, decompressed scenes of character development, and he hasn’t really let up. But, I’d disagree with you. There is a particular use of the form inherent to most all of his comics that tell you they’re by Bendis. He is a writer with a certain voice and viewpoint, and his craft has been practiced and employed. And while I think in a better world, voice and viewpoint wouldn’t be such signifiers. And instead, they would act as a baseline for superheroes or other categories of popular media — That just isn’t the case. So, it’s a real positive thing when someone manages to do it. Because it’s an example of someone cutting through commercial products, like superhero teams and crossover universes, to expand their language, exposing us, the audience, to some different tone. Even something that’s actually human. And maybe that is progress? I mean, superheroes and their stories are going to hold a place in popular culture for the foreseeable future. For whatever their numerous subjective reasons are, many, many people find this kind of fiction compelling, and so corporations are happy to sell it. There’s the argument that this is rotting our brains and stupefying our culture. I can see reasons to agree with it, even. But, if this is the fiction most of us engage in, and if superheroes are a collective way for people to interact with their imaginations, then there has to be value in the efforts made to make these stories, these products, a little more malleable to creative risk, right? If make-believe is a core aspect of being a person, if it’s how we play in our minds, see things anew, and regenerate the world through different filters and shapes, then any little divergence is a worthwhile move away from the hard definitions we’ve forced on our lives, yes? I mean, I know that’s a heady concept to attach to something childish like Superman, but it’s also true that we forget things as we age, and adults can end up lost to expectations. We all know, on some level, that stories and fictions are powerful to human beings, and while it would be arguably preferable for our stories to not be dominated by one, corporate concept — for the superhero genre to take a backseat or even be destroyed — it’s just not in the cards right now. And either way, a writer named Alan Moore already tried and failed to move us along from superhero stories 36 years ago. He tried to give the genre a bookend with his and Dave Gibbons’ series, Watchmen, and he tried to show us how the superhero concept is arguably broken. But we didn’t want anything like that. Instead, we read Watchmen in 1986 and demanded more things like it, and we kept reading and watching and gaming for 36 years after that. And maybe that’s just our mistake and ignorance? Maybe Alan Moore was right? Maybe superheroes overstay their welcome beyond their youth-inspired gleam and become a nostalgic, commercial poison that stunts us? But here we are, they’re everywhere. So, what do we do with them, now?      

I think many comic book writers who started in the 90s and 00s have tried to answer this question. Names like Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Ed Brubaker, Joe Casey, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, and Brian Michael Bendis come to mind. I think there are a few ways you can view their efforts. They either made career moves, chasing elevation, or they wrote the stories they wanted to read. Or it’s both, and so much more. Their efforts in this genre may involve everything that’s inherent to their particular person. All of their characteristics and moral qualities could be intermingling in a push-and-pull, that’s held together by tension and conflicting human wants. And maybe it’s this dance that created things like The Authority, Punisher MAX, and Godland? But beyond all that, I do believe each of these people has tried to answer the question: What do we do with superheroes now, as a fictitious device? Each of their bibliographies contains work that’s idiosyncratic, and even innovative in its approach to narrative. And each of their names can be identified by specific stylistic choices or aesthetics that are consistently presented across their bodies of fiction. Not to mention, many of the high-concepts driving their superhero plots tried to reimagine the genre for a modern era. Rather than read Watchmen and agree with it, then look to other creative outlets as new avenues of opportunity, these people, and so many others like them, decided there’s still more work to do. They sat and thought … Superheroes aren’t going anywhere. So, what if we wrote them, and what could we do with them?      

This line of thought started a takeover. They were readers and fans who applied their talents and slowly took the reins from the professionals who ran the show, who made the comic books, and they became the pros themselves. Their thoughts of what if we wrote them? led to paying gigs that turned into careers. And some of them are pretty long by now. Brian Michael Bendis, for instance, is looking at 29 years in this line of work. And, I don’t know, maybe I’m too easily impressed, but I think a 29-year career in the comic book business is an accomplishment, of some sort. 

Not a lot of people do it, for one, and it seems like a hard job to hold. You have all the deadlines attached to writing multiple books, and there’s the pressure to deliver stories that satisfy passionate fans. You have to deliver this certain, professional level of work while maintaining an online presence that’s mostly used to market yourself. And for that, too, you have to produce content. Personally, I could see writing a comic book or some series being an enjoyable challenge. But when I think about doing all the rest of it that’s required to have a career, it sounds kind of draining. Maybe it actually isn’t. I mean, I’m not living the life I’m describing here, and I really don’t know what it’s like. Maybe the whole thing really is fun and fulfilling? But I don’t know, it seems like there are a lot of ugly stories from the comic book business and its history. And it sounds like the business takes a lot from the people who give to and work in it. For example, just look at all the money that’s owed to the working-class people who created these superhero characters in the 1960s and on. They did this work for a paycheck on tight deadlines, sacrificing time away from their families and themselves, and their efforts were absorbed by private companies under “work-for-hire” contracts and then milked in every possible manner for money. Now, Hollywood makes enormous profits from their labor, but the people who originally had the ideas and actually made them exist haven’t really shared in this gain. Or, for another example, you can think about the instances of artistic frustration and theft that really challenged the people who cared about this artform. For instance, the original comic book artwork drawn for classic Marvel and DC comic books is now worth thousands of dollars. While actual people drew those images, and that artwork bears their name and their craft, the private companies that employed them often assumed ownership of these art pieces, and the artists were often denied possession of it along with the opportunity to reap any monetary reward from its sale. Today, it seems like comic book creators, even after decades of activism for content rights and better pay, are still just trying to secure opportunities and keep their careers alive. Recent news of Substack providing grants to comic book writers and artists to produce new work (without claiming intellectual property rights) could represent a shift in reader consumption and creative careers, pushing the business in a new direction. Or it may just amount to a select few producing projects that previously wouldn’t have been made because of limited resources. Either way, comic book creators today seem to be trying to find a reliable path through a professional life while embracing their idea of creativity, where they can make something that they have more say in, unedited. But there’s a scarcity complex in the comic book business. There are only so few spots available to write or draw stories on a mass audience scale, and people compete for those positions — Everyone thinks they can make it. And if you get in, it’s really about staying in. And to stay in, what does it take?

Maybe by writing all that, I’ve somehow incriminated Brian Michael Bendis. I’ve done the thing, where I sit here and type my thoughts and assume to know something. But, I mean, if someone lasts 29 years in this dirty business, they must be dirty, too, right? Wasn’t that one of the points of The Wire? But, I don’t know Brian Michael Bendis personally. I know nothing about his actual life, and I’m not going to pretend that I do. It’s bad enough that I’m here attempting to make any sense of an entertainment medium, a complicated business, or the concept of fiction as a human being with an isolated, limited, biased perspective — who knows nothing. And honestly, in this long, long introduction to where we are now, I can’t even say I have an exact point to make by writing all this, which is why I’ve never been a real critic or writer of any merit. I guess I just want to start this way, so you know where I’m coming from when I read and respond to one of Brian Michael Bendis’ latest comic books, Justice League 2022 Annual #1

Now, this is where I’ll be really annoying and just totally flip the script on you. I really just want to say something about artist Sanford Greene’s artwork in this comic book. Even for someone with just a passing interest in superheroes or illustration and visual art, these drawings are eye-catchers. They’re striking. Look: 

The first thing I notice is the style, the overall look and feel of Greene’s visual interpretation of a Justice League comic book. I see the influences of artists like Jack Kirby, Paul Pope, and Darwyn Cooke. With Kirby, it’s that superhero bombast where worlds collide and punches get thrown. For Pope, it’s an appearance of flow and liquidity, the line art drips, and it’s all vibe with a knack for storytelling. And then you have Cooke — who implies that chiseled jawline, the iconic, the statuesque man in a cape smiling at you, here to help. 

But I also see Greene being Greene.

It’s like I said in the first paragraph of this write-up: There is something positive to appreciate about someone who can smudge up the commercial sheen of superheroes and show us something personal. Especially at this point in our culture, when everything is so much a product. Look around you: Movies are franchises, YouTube is content. And it’s getting hard to find compelling artists working within our large, institutional venues. There are so many artists in this world, and so many of them are talented and have things to say or discuss, but it’s only a very select few who make it through and take on the societal duties of entertaining, informing, and challenging everyone else through globally shared fictional stories. Or music. Or film. Or whatever it is. A small percentage of those who do hold these positions of influence actually use them for anything interesting. I think a lot of people try to, to their credit, and I can appreciate their efforts, deeply and genuinely. But, ultimately, whoever makes it in the traditional sense, with money and a career, is really, actually, just a good employee. Like, think about it, Brian Michael Bendis and Sanford Greene are employees of DC Comics, who were hired to write and draw Justice League 2022 Annual #1. But with being good employees, I’d argue they both found some personal motivation in this assignment, and they made this comic book better than it had any right to be. It could have been dull, repetitive, piecemeal, and nerdy and still achieved solid, safe sales and got them paid. But both Bendis and Greene had fun with it. There’s no way they didn’t. I mean, look at what this comic book looks like:

Very few of the very good artists end up on the world’s stage. And The Justice League is the world stage of superhero comics. You can make the argument that other superhero teams take the cake. I mean, The Avengers seems to be everyone’s favorite. But the Justice League starts with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. They are the originals. They are fucking superheroes. You cannot corrupt them. Because, thankfully, they represent our best moral selves. As real human beings, as the men and women who dreamt these characters up from our collective imaginations, these superheroes mean so many things to so many people, across the whole world. We, as the audience, have imprinted upon them our feedback and fan craze. We’re all responsible for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, in some sense. We’ve reflected our personal interpretations and obsessions onto them, and they have changed and evolved in response to that. A lot of care has gone into giving them worthwhile values, too, like fairness and justice. We’ve preserved this about them even though we have experimented with their presentation, at times. Conceptually, they are meant to save the day, to encourage peace. That’s their core. They’re superheroes, strong, but kind — what we want to be. 

To see Greene’s talent on a world stage like this is exciting. His artwork feels totally his own. The way he draws carries with it a style and tone that can shake away all the background noise and cynicism that’s now attached to superheroes. It disrupts their corporate glow and presses pause on the broad cultural questions they beg we ask: Like, when is enough of a particular thing, enough? It connects you, instead, to the power of superheroes. Their visual presence. They stand tall and take command. They’re always up for an adventure to save the world. Too many other writers and artists have tried to tell superhero stories that are more “realistic” or broken and literary, to somehow say something of the genre’s capacity for “serious” stories. And there are even good examples of those comic books I can point you to. But this popular artistic tone and pursuit has also made the genre dull, made it corny. When it could have been wild, free, and dream-like. 

Luckily, Greene draws superheroes as if they’re something to see. He presents these characters as if their actions can shape the planet and the universe. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman possess this might and godhood under Greene’s pencil. But they’re also humble. They can break away from their epic battles to throw a surprise party:

This isn’t the first time this has been seen in a superhero comic book. For example, some X-Men comics have shown this moment in a story to convey a family aspect that’s important to the Merry Mutants. In Bendis’ own comics, he’s used this framing device to evoke innocence or something wholesome. When I think about Bendis, now, I think of him as a dad. According to some interviews he’s given, he has several kids. He’s no longer the guy who wrote and drew Fire. He isn’t that young gun mixing things up. He’s the dad of the comic book business, now. His work has shifted in tone to present that. The “creation” of Miles Morales — Generation Z’s version of Spider-man — is the main example. Bendis thought up this character variation on Spider-man in order to reflect and capture our present youth’s attention.  A new character named Miles Morales could much more effectively connect with a younger audience than our old friend Peter Parker, the 60-year-old, geeky teenager turned irresponsible, messy adult. Miles instantly landed with a broad pop culture audience upon his debut, quickly making appearances in media beyond his singular comic book title: Ultimate Comics: Spider-man. His “creation” isn’t necessarily the most groundbreaking accomplishment, as Miles Morales is literally just a different interpretation of an already existing character, but he certainly holds his own. Readers care about the stories he inhabits. For Bendis, this success could absolutely be based on a calculated career choice. He could have pitched Marvel Comics this idea as a way to expand an iconic franchise and capitalize on a national conversation regarding diversity. The success of Miles Morales has most certainly helped Bendis remain in the comic book business this long; it’s undoubtedly helped his position as a good employee of the big publishers. But who am I to really know the actual intentions? It’s also possible that Miles Morales reflects the writer’s personal want to emphasize the idealism powering superheroes. Spider-man, with Peter Parker’s faults and tedious, relatable challenges such as paying rent and sustaining relationships, was always seen as a common man. He was someone underneath that mask who looked like us, just a mess trying to get through it. But he could still save the world, or at least New York City. He was a fucking nerd, but he was a Queens boy, too. He was from the boroughs. A New Yorker. And Miles Morales drives at this same sentiment. He’s connected to the city, where he lives, and he’s a kid just trying to figure things out. He’s speaking to a readership that isn’t yet so jaded or fed up with it. They all still have that thing that makes them kids. That thing a lot of us can lose and have lost. They get to have their own experience with Miles Morales, Spider-man. And that’s great for them. I’m happy to say. 

It’s weird how in the last paragraph I had to get cynical about Miles Morales and Bendis’s intentions in co-creating him (Artist Sara Pichelli drew the character and is credited in his original appearance; Both Bendis and Pichelli co-created this successful superhero.). My cynicism is just meant to cover my bases. When writing about superhero comic books, there’s this tendency to defend yourself. You can feel that you have to defend your decision to spend time on this hobby, and at times obsession, that’s primarily focused on men and women in capes and costumes. Why would you write more than 3,000 words on this random issue of Justice League? Like, why? It feels like a justification is owed to anyone who glances at the post preview on social media. I have to explain myself and pretend to have authority in this subject. If I can get snobby, get snobby. 

That’s where Zack Snyder’s Justice League tows a beautiful line. 

It is at once a corney, beautiful, personal, gaudy, corporate, CrossFit version of a superhero movie starring Ben Affleck. It’s a divisive subject for some reason. Those that love it are still petitioning Warner Bros. for a full restoration of Zack Synder’s Justice League strategy and vision — The fans want him to make more of these movies. Maybe he’ll get to, someday. I wouldn’t be mad. Because I love that Zack Snyder is eagerly slapping his name on this stuff. Somebody has to. Somebody has to give it some charm. It’s everywhere, it’s all the movies now. Somebody needs to spice superheroes up. Give them a perspective that doesn’t ignore or pretend to be anything other than what it is. Looking at Snyder’s entries into the canon, (there’s quite a few to list; Google it), he seems like a pretty good fit for the job. I was actually a bit moved by The Snyder Cut. It really captures what’s so powerful about superheroes. There are stakes in the story that you actually care about. It totally commits to its scale where gods are at war for the fate of everything. It made me feel like a kid, just watching something without judgment or a takedown ready to go. I wasn’t trying to be smart. I knew that Snyder made this movie following the death of his daughter, and I could accept its expression because I could see the heart in its making. Maybe I am naive, but cynicism is just old. 

So, back to the surprise party:

Beyond wholesome, I see vibrancy. I see real interest in each other. No one is shy, not one at all. It looks like a nice time. I don’t really know what happened behind the scenes to present this artwork and image to me. I know I had to pay money for it, that’s all. It showed up at my house in a brown box containing so many other superhero comic books. I struggle with the corporate greed and repetition, the impact on our critical thinking, the hollowness. But when it’s Saturday, and there’s nothing to do, reading these stories is a good way to let your thoughts run wild. They contain so much nonsense and high emotion. Even the bad ones do. But, when you get a Sanford Greene drawing like this, it makes you stop and appreciate the whole thing. Of how it’s possible to put something familiar into plastic. I don’t know how Sanford Greene became employed by DC Comics, but I like to sit here and think that Brian Michael Bendis helped him out. He used his position in the industry to give someone new a chance. So, if Bendis can do that after 29 years, I say he keeps his job.

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Direct Message 01: A&C: DC Part Four

[Chad Nevett and I have written a lengthy discussion piece on the DC Comics Relaunch. Parts one, two and three are already available. Part four, the conclusion, follows … ]

Alec Berry: I don’t know. O.M.A.C. was weak.

But yeah, Nevett, you missed out in the Justice League department because my boy Johns…Ok, maybe he’s not my boy, but I need to come clean. I’ve found somewhat of a liking for Geoff Johns as of late. Used to despise his work. Can’t say so anymore.

You know why? Because Flashpoint, which started all of this, did “event comic” right. Big. Dumb. No holds. Said something. Looked great. Flashpoint is the book in which Geoff Johns comes to terms with his role at DC and the projects he’s penned. The comic speaks toward a resistance to change, yet ultimately realizes change is necessary. It’s Johns dealing with his many silver age revival comics, and saying it’s time to stop because really it’s just selfish. He cannot preserve or channel the past. He cannot return everything to the good old days. Such attempts only place a small band aid on the huge, messy wound. No. Progress must happen. Time moves whether we wish it or not.

Flashpoint, as blogger Sean Witzke noted, allows Johns to let go and say, “you know what, we need to go somewhere else.” And then we get the DC New 52 and this very article we are typing.

This inspired my new respect for Geoff Johns. The dude managed to get personal in an event comic, and you know what, I’m sure what Johns went through to write it was very much the same sentimental feeling much of the hardcore DC audience experienced.

And, hey, the concept of change relates to many things. The story works as well as a comic book comment as anything else.

And then we arrive at Justice League #1. The comic may not break the medium as some may have hoped, but it certainly works as a commercial super hero book – which, is what it’s supposed to be. The book supplies the necessary punches, and Jim Lee draws it to look cool. Batman’s in it as well. Hey, brand name recognition!

What I really took away from JL though was how it chose to introduce the super-hero. Granted, super-heroes are not a lost or obscure archetype at this point in culture, but the comic book super hero, I think, seems a little lost. People now understand Iron Man as a film character more than they do a comic character. Super heroes will always be synonymous with comic books because super heroes automatically come packaged with the thoughts of flipping pages, but super heroes are more recognized for the film work nowadays. Films just draw more attention. It’s that simple.

So Justice League, and arguably the entire DC relaunch, exists to remind the general public of the comic book’s existence and that super heroes exist primary within them. But JL exposes people to heroes who are either egotistical jerks or armor clad, power plus gods not role models. There’s nothing really welcoming about the comic. Instead, it’s abrasive. Citizens of the DCU express fear when the term “super hero” drops. SWAT teams chase down Batman like he’s some criminal. The feeling even exists in Morrison’s Action. Superman’s feared, and the character runs around unchecked. Both books are just angry, but they’re, hypothetically, people’s first exposure to icons who are meant to be looked up to.

The JL also fall under a very human portrayal which is somewhat similar to Bendis’ approach on the Avengers. Bendis writes his characters with a lot of dialogue. No new observation there, but, at least for his Avenger’s work, I see the dialogue serving an interesting purpose. The dialogue gets in the way of the Avengers taking action. People like to complain about this when they speak of Bendis’ work, but really it serves an important role as establishing the cast as human and flawed. Rather than jumping to and getting the job done, the Avengers talk about it and discuss what they should do. Super heroes don’t do such a thing, but in the Marvel Universe, where everyone carries their own problem, the Avengers wouldn’t be the best super heroes. They’d be people with extra talents who sometimes get things done. The rest of the time they procrastinate. Like people.

Johns’ Justice League get right to work, but he humanizes them via their social skills. He writes Green Lantern as a self-centered jerk and Batman as an illtrusting, paranoid man. The abilities are there. The willingness and ease of getting things done is there. But the social collaboration? Weak.

So there’s this odd attempt to sell super heroes as these flawed beings. Maybe it’s an attempt to Marvelize DC’s characters?

The take my not be my ideal version, but I still find it interesting within its execution. I can’t hold anything against the book because of that. JL made me feel something or at least think of a larger picture outside of the comic book. Anything that can do such gets my respect. 

Chad Nevett: Justice League is kind of a tough comic to discuss, partly, because I haven’t read it, and, partly, because I’ve pretty much decided that the best way for me to engage with Geoff Johns’s writing is to not engage it at all. I don’t like his writing and, instead of beating that dead horse, I try to simply ignore its existence. So, by default, I’ve pretty much ignore Justice League #1 aside from a couple of points that struck me as noteworthy:

1. The idea that this is a group that needs an origin. This is a complaint that goes outside of this book to a degree, but I’m just tired of comics that feel the need to explain thing that don’t need explaining. It’s tedious and I’d rather just get on with it. Even if I didn’t have an embargo on Johns’s writing, I would have skipped this because I don’t care about how the Justice League formed. I really, really don’t. I hate the idea to a degree. It’s unnecessary for me to ever learn that, because the specifics don’t matter at all. More than any other superhero team, how the Justice League formed is completely useless knowledge. The team formed because there was a threat so big that it took them all to defeat it. Does it matter what the threat was or how they came to realize that they should work together? Not one bit. Therefore, any origin story threat can easily be shown threatening Earth when there’s an established Justice League. Even the character bits that people liked (the bickering mostly it seems) could still be there.

2. Was this the right comic to ‘launch’ the relaunch? When the first week came out, Action Comics #1 seemed like a possible better choice to kick things off. Grant Morrison’s name means more outside of comics these days and pretty much every opinion I’ve seen proffered said that Action Comics #1 was better than Justice League #1. More, to use your term, it wasn’t incredible – why the fuck not? Shouldn’t the lead book be the best comic DC can produce?

AB: Two solid points. I agree. As your launch book, yeah, you should work to make it the best it can possibly be, but also, I wouldn’t completely shun a book for being average. Which is what the internet seemed to do upon its initial release. I’m not saying Justice League is the best comic of the year. It’s not even great. But the book was solid enough. Maybe I should be harder as a critic, but I don’t see anything wrong with being solid. Not everything will blow away the world. If so, everything would be average anyway.

And I think JL was the better pick over Action as a launch book. Morrison may draw in an outside crowd, but those people will show up anyway when Action drops a week or two later in the relaunch. Plus, when the goal stands to grab attention and snatch up new readers, you need a striking visual look. People enjoy visual pleasure. It’s why we purchase certain sugary cereals over others. Rags Morales would have fucked that train up. Jim Lee, whether you find him a technically brilliant artist or not, makes the most sense. He won the 1990s by simple cool points, and hey, it can easily work this decade. Plus, Jim Lee still carries as much as a name as Morrison. The guy rarely draws comics, yet still sells big numbers. People crave Jim Lee, and if you want to bring up the whole “lets captured lapsed readers” point, Lee’s artwork, for someone who read during the 90s, may be artwork they fondly remember.

Origin? I’ll agree with you here. At this point, yeah, origin stories for these characters are unnecessary. We get it. Some dude gets powers, some alien crash lands, someone’s mom dies…a quest for justice is acquired…crime fight. All origins tend to hit the same buttons. You’ve heard one, you’ve heard them all. And as you put it, “the team formed because there was a threat so big that it took them all to defeat it,” the origin takes a one sentence blurb to explain.  

But, still, the choice serves a purpose. Not ideal execution, but I find it interesting. The execution goes back to the take I mentioned earlier. DC’s humanizing the Justice League, and they’re doing it via social interactions a.k.a. showing how the team meets.

Johns, to accomplish this, has to write the story this way. 

CN: Ah, but should that be the goal? DC has tried from time to time to ‘humanise’ their characters in a way that’s similar to Marvel and that works… for pretty much all of the characters that aren’t the ‘Big Seven,’ particularly guys like Superman and Batman. They’re so iconic and conceptual in this existence that they actively react against that approach. They’re not Marvel characters and a Marvel approach doesn’t work with them. It’s like DC trying to fight against what it is and that seems like a strange approach.

While the first issue was a disappointment, I’d have to say that Stormwatch got what DC is about. Even with the bickering, none of the characters felt human. They were more types. They were larger than humanisation, beyond it. You don’t need to think of them as people to follow their adventures. It’s an approach that definitely builds on Morrison’s JLA and Ellis’s The Authority where it was about the ‘mission’ and maybe two bits of dialogue that would hint that these people all had different personalities, but who actually cares… Humanising the characters grounds them in a specific reality, which goes against their staying power.

It’s like, if you want to read about a superhero who you care about and can relate to, you read Spider-Man. If you want to read about heroes being heroes and doing cool shit, you read a Superman or Batman comic. And I grew up in the era where Superman had the most ‘human’ alter ego with Clark Kent as an equal/bigger part of the equation. I still didn’t care about him the way I cared about Spider-Man. Trying to replicate Marvel’s approach is the wrong way to go.

AB:  Yeah. This is the point where I would bring in some of my personal tastes and criticise Justice League. Johns and DC present a defined take on the cast, but as you say, it ruins what’s so unique about these characters.

It’s funny we hit this point of the conversation right when we do because Tim O’Neil just posted his thoughts on DC’s new Superman last night, and he said something similar to what you just did. I’ll also echo those sentiments. What’s great about the DC roster of characters, or at least its main players, is that its beyond us and beyond our world. Not necessarily technologically or politically, but in some higher sense of humanity the DC Universe stands taller than ours. It’s the point Grant Morrison tries to make in Supergods. Super heroes are who we could be physically, mentally and morally, and Superman or Batman are the concrete cultural symbols of such ideas.

Even if you take away the philosophical aspect, I still just like reading comic books where super heroes aren’t necessarily relateable. Like, why would they be relateable? Spider-Man makes sense because he is the teenage super hero (today, I’m not sure what he is, unless we’re talking Ultimate), but not every guy or girl with super powers will be someone we know or get. They’re post-human after all.

Plus, when super heroes are written to go out and get shit done, it’s usually much more entertaining than the JMS approach of overwriting or drawing out emotional moments.

So, yeah, I would enjoy it if Johns made Superman the character of solid core and composure rather than this angry, angst ridden take we’re seeing. The approach moves away from what I really love about DC Comics. Oddly enough, though, the take works for me in Morrison’s book because Morrison seems to base his Superman from an acceptable place. Action Comics Superman ties back to what Siegel and Shuster did as well as bounces off of the current cultural touchstone of Occupy protests and other zeitgeist beliefs. There’s an actual reason for what he’s doing while Johns and crew write the character as if, “hey, angry Superman may sell a lot of books because don’t people hate perfect Superman?”

The entire thing just feels like a dumb attempt to bury what makes DC unique in order to cater to a mass audience who enjoys grit and grime.

I will say though that Justice League hasn’t touched a level of crying capes. Yet. The first issue still depicts fast moving characters, and while they’re human in the social setting, Johns writes them to be above the ordinary human. The cast is separated by the costumes but also by a sense of fear felt by the DCU citizens. The Justice League stills presents an element of godliness. Just not the nice kind. I haven’t read The Authority, but do you feel Johns is looking to mix in that influence? If so, isn’t it a bit late? Also, I know Stormwatch was a weak first issue. I kind of hated it. Have you continued on to #2, and if so, has it improved? 

CN: The difference (from what I can tell) between Morrison and Johns in their approach to this Superman is that Morrison’s Superman is just as compassionate and caring as always, but directs his action towards different targets than we’re used to, while Johns’s Superman is just a dick. Actually, from what I’ve heard, Johns’s entire Justice League roster is filled with the biggest bunch of assholes you could ever find. Hell, Ellis is known for writing ‘bastards’ and the Authority was a cheerier, more cooperative bunch!

Stormwatch did improve with the second issue. I was glad I stuck around for that.

Is there anything left to say? I know we skipped a bunch of books, but I don’t think we need to do a rundown on everything we read. Also, it’s almost November as I write this sentence and September seems so long ago. What the hell did I read then? I will say that Aquaman #1 sounded like the perfect one-shot that needed a cover with the Justice League all laughing at Aquaman as he shouts “My writer says I’m cool!” Except he’s not. DC really missed the boat by not recruiting Craig Ferguson to write that comic.

AB: We’ve definitely gone farther with this than I thought we would, and no, we don’t really need to cover every single book because frankly we’ve already covered all the interesting ones. Besides Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. It wasn’t as great as Animal Man #1, but Lemire still impressed me.

But yeah. Not a whole lot of the DC 52 really cries for discussion. Now, I’m totally talking out of my ass as I say that because I have not even come close to reading everything, but when I look at the remainder of the line up I see very little that shouts “interesting” or “worth the time.” Most of the line just says “property advertisement.” The DC 52 is a collection of pamphlets that celebrates Time Warner’s intellectual properties, and these books exist as a new attempt to generate awareness out in the general population. Most of these stories appear to be formula super hero tales that exist to fulfill a job. Overall, I’d say the whole relaunch was kind of disappointing, and you know what, 52 comics are way too many. 30 books would be more reasonable. Most of these characters do not require their own series, and the talent behind them doesn’t really have anything to say.

We did manage to find a few worthwhile comics in the bunch, though. If anything, that’s a positive, and it shows that a handful of creators are trying to make super hero comics interesting and meaningful. Azzarello, Chiang, Morrison, Lemire, Manapul, Williams, Ponticelli, Foreman, Capullo … I salute you.

So, Chad, any final thoughts? Do we care anymore? I mean, it is Month 3. Month 1 was so two months ago. 

CN: I’m buying more DCU comics now than I was in August. So, I guess DC won. But, my excitement heading into November isn’t high. It isn’t low. It’s more that there are comics coming out from DC that I buy and that’s a reality. Is that a win? I don’t know. Then again, I doubt DC is looking at the two of us as a sample audience to listen to. It’s been fun, sir. We need to do this again.

AB: I agree. Let’s just try to not go over 11,000 words next time.

[So, yeah. That’s it. If you read all 4 parts, well, I fucking love you. It’s 4am. Peace, yo.]

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Direct Message 01: A&C: DC Part Two

[Chad Nevett and I have started our own conversation series to discuss, you guessed it, comics. This time around, we’re tackling the DC Comics Relaunch because you obviously have not heard enough about it. Seriously, though, we’ve gone through Month 1 of the event and have discussed as much as we can. This turned out to be a massive conversation, so we’ve split it into 4 parts. Part 1 can be found over at Chad’s blog. Check it out and come back here for Part 2 …]

Alec Berry: If you look at it, Snyder really is one of the few strictly horror comic book writers. American Vampire. Severed. Even his Detective Comics work danced the line of psychological horror.

I agree that Paquette uses a smooth, polished approach, but I feel he can still generate the necessary tone for this Swamp Thing comic. I found the neck snappings quite effective in their depiction. His figures are crisp and clear, but  I think the clear depiction only heightens the uneasiness. The characters’ nuanced facial expressions sell the pain and fear of the situation, and to top it off, Paquette allows his panels to bleed together by only separating them with scattered black blots. The sequence is very ominous because of those panel gutters. The panels appear to be sinking into some unknown void.

I guess this marks our first disagreement, sir.

I find it odd Snyder took the approach he did. Swamp Thing, a character with such a revered background, screams fresh start. At least to me. So why then, when offered the opportunity of a brand new beginning, would you tie your story to the highly revered previous events? Playing armchair writer, I would so start new and make Swamp Thing my own rather than build off of continuity and precedents. I would think such approach might free you of the given traps and snares. New continuity allows a writer to escape Moore’s shadow. At least, to some extent. The work still exists, so the context is there for anyone familiar with Moore’s work. But on a technical, in story level, new continuity frees you as a company writer. Why throw that freedom away unless you feel you can add something worthwhile to the Moore work? If that be the case, Snyder must be pretty confident.

Of course, DC did make quite an effort to bring the character back via Brightest Day. The decision could relate to a desire keep that event in canon. Cause, you know, fans care.

As for your point on mismatching “reboots” and “relaunches” … I think such a method could easily work. We knew certain stories and concepts would stick around going into the New 52. The big sellers, like Johns’ Green Lantern and Morrison’s Batman, are big sellers for a reason. People care about those plot lines, so DC would be wrong to dissolve them.

Is it confusing on an in story level? Maybe, but I think it makes fine sense. I’m looking at the line as a New DC Universe, and I’m coming to it as it continues its daily routine. This DC plane exists with or without me. I’m just peeking in, and I have no idea what it already contains. So there’s a Batman Incorporated? Oh, that’s interesting. Hal Jordan usually is the Green Lantern, but not at the moment. Why? Those plot lines we know of the old DC line give the new DC line a little history while only being a month old. I enjoy that. The DC 52 seems self-sustaining and organic in an odd way.

Also, Justice League takes place 5 years in the past of this DC Universe while the other books are in the present, so this detail somewhat explains the “reboot” versus “relaunch” feel you mention. Really, a reader must only understand one thing – some of DC’s old stuff worked and some of it did not. The working parts get to stay. The glitches get a reboot.

But back to Scott Snyder …

I find him a good comics writer, but I would not label him “best of the business” as I see some people doing. His early Detective issues impressed me with their tight plotting and entertaining mysteries, and, to give credit to my Chemical Box co-host Joey Aulisio, I found Snyder’s approach to the Morrison details fun. If anything, his best work involved the Jim Gordon character, and for awhile his ability to evoke the Frank Miller Batman/Gordon relationship felt exciting and bold.

His Detective run really lost steam towards the end, though. The final issue literally bored me. American Vampire is consistent enough each month, and I might even reach to call it one of the better mainstream comics out each month because of said consistency (and Rafael Albuquerque).

I don’t know, though. Snyder just seemed to hit hot at first, and now he’s struggling to keep me entertained. To bring up David Brother’s point once again … you really notice Snyder’s use of that technique when you read several of his comics in one sitting. I couldn’t imagine reading this work in a trade paper back and not rolling my eyes. His method for setting up an issue, by telling some old wise man story, is fine enough, but after a while the constant recycling of said method resembles a novelist who constantly uses prepositional phrases. And it’s not exciting, and it really wears on you. Writers cannot rely on the same techniques page in and page out, and I feel Snyder needs to work this out soon because already, with only a year or so under his belt, you can map out his formula for a single issue comic book.

That said though, I enjoyed Batman #1 quite a bit.

Chad Nevett: Snyder has said he’s a GIANT Swamp Thing fan, that this is his dream book, and I think that’s where the problem lies. I’ve always been very wary when someone comes on board a title and says that this is their favourite character, their dream book, the one thing they’ve wanted to do in comics since they were a teenager… I don’t trust that quality writing will come out of that mentality. I think I’m the only guy who reads interviews and cringes when writers mention loving a character. I like a bit more objective approach to the material than someone who’s been thinking about what they’d do for years and years. That fan approach could explain his approach; he doesn’t want to ignore everything he loves about the character and his world. Another writer without the same attachments probably wouldn’t hesitate to cut 95% of it, go back to the basics, and try his best to forget that Alan Moore exists.

Batman doesn’t have the same fault. It’s actually fairly economical a first issue. Very on point and direct. That newspaper bit was both laughably inane and actually quite in tune with Gotham, I thought. No actual paper would keep running a feature that seems to trash the city week in and week out; then again, no actual city is as horrible a place as Gotham. I made a joke recently that Superman’s ‘never-ending battle’ tagline makes him seem like a failure and deluded fool. Well, Batman’s continued war on crime in Gotham that never actually makes the city better is right up there. I don’t know if everything in Gotham’s past is still in play, but, if it is… yeesh. Plagues, earthquakes, mob corruption, homicidal maniacs that enter Arkham one day and exit the next… and a guy who dresses up in a costume and beats them up without actually preventing them from doing the crazy things they keep doing over and over again. If that city actually existed, I could see its paper running that “Gotham is…” feature even though the responses are horrible. The publisher is clearly trying to tell everyone to kill themselves or move far away, because living in Gotham is living in Hell.

Um… maybe now I’ll get back on point?

Batman #1 was fine. The art was very hit or miss for me (more miss than hit) and the writing was fine. Nothing really jumped out and grabbed me, but nothing made me want to run screaming for the hills. Middle of the road superhero comics and an average first issue. I’m sure you liked it more than that, so why not tell the readers of your love for Batman and why I’m wrong?

AB: I wouldn’t call it love, but yeah, I enjoyed Batman more than you because I actually like what Greg Capullo does here.

I’m not sure what your stance on this guy was prior to this comic. I’ve kind of always had a thing for his work because I bought such books as Spawn and Haunt. Not my classiest purchases … although, early Spawn still offers some amount of fun. Capullo certainly rocks a McFarlane influence, and I am completely unashamed to admit my personal enjoyment of Todd McFarlane’s artwork. His drawings still excite and entertain while hitting me in some visceral, gut-jabbing way. (I blame my childish, nerdy affection for Spider-man and his connection to the character.) But Capullo manages to do one thing McFarlane can’t, and that’s design pages laminated in motion and fluidity.

My friend Joey has said before that Capullo made him realize the importance of comic book pages and their layouts. Reading this issue of Batman, I can’t help but understand what he means. I look at these Batman pages, and all I can see are the efforts of an artist who puts the flow and feel of story first. Capullo pulls off what I feel most readers are after – the cool, individual style – with ease, but he spends time on his page layouts. Yeah, I don’t necessarily know that for sure. Maybe he whips these things up in two seconds. But, reading this comic, I sense a time and focus put into how the story tells itself visually. Capullo wants your mind to work and move and blend itself with the story like you’re actually there within the book. He takes into account the big moments and finds sure-fire ways to convey them. He ensures the comic pages move your eyes along in an fun fashion.

For the sake of example, view the first page. Three separate views of Gotham City, yet Capullo makes our eyes descend over the page like we’re descending on the same location or view. Someone could say this is a fault of Capullo’s – a lacking ability to clearly illustrated different locations – but I find this intentional. Gotham is a shit town that its citizens or even Batman cannot escape. If you lived there, you would see shit in every direction, and no building or alley would be individual nor provide escape. Capullo communicates this idea to me. Three different buildings but they look the same and feel as one because they’re all dubbed in trash, smog, and shadows. Three different buildings blend together to feel like one image transposed over three panels. The page works so well as a tool to bring the reader into the world because you see the buildings and the darkness, but the page also literally moves the reader’s eyes to the next page as they descend to the bottom right corner – or figuratively, descend into Gotham. It’s a nice example of atmosphere as well as movement within a comic book.

But, yeah, Scott Snyder wrote this. I agree with your assessment of Batman being a very economical first issue. I’d term it the DC Comics version of a pop song, but a good pop song you could unabashedly bounce your head to. Batman contains all the necessary elements:

1.) Batman
4.) Jim Gordon
5.) Shit town
6.)Dreams of better
7.)Arkham Asylum

Like all pop songs, there’s an equation to balance out. Snyder does such with this comic book, and I’d say he does it well. The book touches all the right beats to make any fan smile (see list above). One thing Snyder mentioned (in an interview somewhere) was how determined he was to make this book as, I guess, self-contained or un-reliant on other Batman material as he could. I believe he said something to the rift of, “I want this run to be an easy trade paperback pick up for someone in a random ass book store.”

It’s funny because he does so, and it’s such an opposite from Swamp Thing and what we decided it was. If anything, I think Snyder was pulling his best Jeph Loeb on this comic. The caption boxes, the rogues gallery, the clean separation from other books, the splash and flash – all trade marks of Mr. Loeb and his approach to comic books, which again, are all pop songs.

So, for fans of Batman: Hush, I’d say this book is your best bet.

CN: I’m not a Capullo guy. I, like all good internet fanboy critics, have evolved past the Image style… though, haven’t evolved enough to start appreciating it again in what people think is an ironic stance but is actual genuine enjoyment.

Moving from Batman to Superman, Action Comics was almost like Batman’s opposite. It wasn’t a ‘greatest hits pop song’ in any way. It wasn’t an angry punk song either despite that partly being what Grant Morrison was going for, I think. It was, like, a happy folk song done on an electric guitar maybe? Young, righteous Superman is a Superman that I can get behind. He’s taking on corruption and having fun doing it. He comes off as a character that’s genuinely enjoying his life. Strangely, it reminds me of All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder where Batman so obviously LOVES being Batman. He loves going out and hurting people and that’s why he’s so over-the-top. Superman is similar, except he doesn’t call himself the ‘Goddamn Superman’ or narrate in stilted Frank Miller hard-boiled sentences. Still, the idea is the same.

Me, I enjoy comics where the heroes seem to be enjoying themselves. That Spider-Man “Oh woe is me” concept works, but to a point. Spider-Man can do that forever and I’m cool. Superman enjoying himself is almost novel at this point. For so long, he’s been stoic, practically burdened by the responsibility of being Superman. The idea weighing him down as he lives up to the image of the ‘S.’ Here, that’s not a problem. He rushes around, a smirk on his face, and fucks shit up for the Man.

Lex Luthor’s reasons for wanting Superman gone also make sense: an alien lifeform is not good for the planet. There are the usual elements of jealousy thrown in, but, otherwise, it’s a logical reason that we can get behind. What dangers are inherent from Superman simply existing on Earth? What unknown/unseen consequences?

The weakness of Action Comics is clearly Rags Morales who seems incapable of delivering an entire issue of polished art. For every panel that looks great, there are three that look thrown together and altogether lacking in refined detail. He nails the goofy smirk of Superman while delivering a Lex Luthor that’s a vague pudgy bald creature that we know is Lex Luthor because he’s bald and kind of evil. I wish Doug Mahnke were drawing this comic. I really do.

AB: I would honestly take anyone other than Rags Morales. I’m sure he’s a nice person, but his artwork makes me shake my head. The way he composes some of his panels makes me question his idea of what is visually interesting and everything simply comes off as stiff and uninspired.

And I really dislike how he draws faces. Everyone in a Rags Morales comic appears to be malnourished and cross-eyed. I have no desire to look at anything like that.

As a script, Action Comics #1 succeeds. I wouldn’t call this the greatest Grant Morrison comic book, but I dig his approach of making Superman an urban legend or folktale. Almost similar to Batman in some regard. Or more like a Robin Hood type. It’s interesting for the character because Superman never seems to step down from that high pedestal he’s placed on. Everyone treats the character as a god, and I’m fine with that. I like Superman as god, but after having such interpretation be the norm for so long Working Class Hero Superman sounds like a welcoming bellow. And, hey, for the time and spirit of the 99%, this take makes a lot of sense. I know Morrison has received some shit for his “statement” on the Siegel and Shuster situation, but I honestly feel the guy speaks what he speaks through his work. Morrison could probably be an activist. I’m sure he has the resources to do some good in the way most would expect. I just think Morrison does good for the world in another fashion: through story. Maybe story activism disappoints some people, but if Morrison can inspire a few by way of his Superman interpretation I’d call it a good day. Stories last longer than most things anyway. Stories possess more power and influence than money any day. I find it telling Morrison wants to bring power and relevancy back to Siegel and Shuster’s creation.

The decision says everything if you ask me.

Morrison does a nice job building the environment too. Without really seeing it, I sense characters in this Metropolis walking about the street whispering to each other of “him.” You feel a certain energy in this fictional city. Things buzz. The concrete takes care of itself.

I also agree that Action #1 is a very fast paced, free wheeling and dealing super hero comic book, and I too am a fan. The title of the book is, well, ACTION Comics. Morrison lives up to the title. You feel a bit out of breath when you finish reading the comic because the book runs and runs. I say such feeling is a good one. Like you put it, Superman comics usually focus on the pressure and overbearing responsibility of being the ultimate man. A fun, care free Superman comic sadly feels revolutionary. Or maybe revolutionary is a bit strong.

Action Comics isn’t one of the most complex Morrison works (not yet at least), but it’s entertaining. I feel in time the book could develop into a nice package of social commentary. Just ditch Rags Morales …

[Part 3 is on Chad’s blog.]


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The TW Review – Justice League #1

Edit: I wrote this review for the Friday edition of The Daily Athenaeum, so excuse the short paragraphs and partial breifness in analysis. That’s newspaper writing, people. Anyway, I liked what I wrote here, so I thought I would post it.


Justice League #1
Writer: Geoff Johns, Artists: Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair

“There was a time when the world didn’t know what a super-hero was.”

The comic opens, and page one presents three panels. Panel one depicts a snapshot of a swat team cop. Two provides an overhead view as we focus in on a rooftop. Panel three zooms in on The Dark Knight.

There’s a progression here. We begin our focus on one form of physical fitness and evolve on to another. Evolve being the key word.

Batman on this page signifies something new or the ideal form of human police force, and by way of Jim Lee’s page layout, the old school swat member and Batman are in the midst of face off. He even draws them on opposite sides of the panel to give the illusion of each character staring off.

It’s humanity against super-humanity, and fear is in the air as both conflict over co-existence.

Or maybe it’s more a matter of discovery?

“Justice League #1” stands as the new DC comic book to begin an era and to excite an audience once more. It’s purpose as a product rests on the attraction of a new or lapsed audience, and it’s here to remind a populace of the super-hero concept’s true home.

While the line “the world didn’t know what a super-hero was” may not entirely ring true in our current cultural layout, the thought of the genre’s place and background may be a little perverted.

It’s the era of Hollywood. Iron Man makes more sense in a film than in print. People’s understanding isn’t very clear.

Not that it necessarily needs to be, but people have forgotten the comic book’s role in the super-hero genre. The medium and the genre don’t exactly match up for people anymore. They’re becoming their own things.

And this is perfectly fine. I’d rather people see comics as a medium then simply “super-heroes,” but still, capes are so much of the history. Both elements are forever tied to another.

This comic seems to remind us of that while also recalling the late 1930s as the super-hero genre first took flight. In some ways, “Justice League #1” says “this is the birth of the super-hero,” giving the comic this “Action Comics #1” vibe.

This statement, I feel, could be accurate, as this is the comic book, out of any comic book, that will provide people with a sense of new found discovery. And by that, I mean people discovering comics

The first page, if so interpreted by the audience party, provides a meta textual comment. It’s depicting what this comic book is intended to do: smash our world with the comic book awareness.

It does so in a semi-menacingly fashion, though.

Human beings fear these proto-gods, and the gods don’t even like each other. There’s nothing welcoming about it, but rather it feels like some sort of forced relation.

If desired, you could interpret this as a comment on the overall DC “all-new 52” relaunch.

Johns writes this comic well. Coming from me, this is a big compliment as I haven’t ever been a fan of this guy’s work. His comics hold too many monologues about nostalgia and too much “serious” character work for my taste.

The dude knows how to structure a story, though. I’ll give him that.

With “Justice League” I feel Johns channels a bit of another successful, modern super-hero team book – Brian Michael Bendis’s “New Avengers.”

Bendis’s Avengers work prides itself on indecisive, more-human-than-super-human characters. The Avengers may be the world’s greatest super-team, but in Bendis’s hands these characters must discuss what needs to be done rather than just act.

His version of the team is very human by way of its function. They almost work like politicians.

John’s brings that human concept to his version of the Justice League. While both Batman and Green Lantern still act quickly under fire, jumping from Gotham City to Metropolis in minutes in order to work, the characters’ relations are very flawed.

Green Lantern speaks of himself in the third person, and he cannot help but sound like egotistical jerk as he shows off to Batman. Batman is very untrusting and looks to work by himself rather than with Green Lantern.

Both characters are very godlike in their ability, but their social skills are so human.

Johns’s Justice League channels but also plays opposite to Bendis’s Avengers.

Just by nature of the comic’s character driven focus, I’d say Geoff Johns is totally trying to capture the the tone of Marvel Comics’ successful Avengers franchise.

I’m in favor of this first issue. While most complain of a lacking cast, I feel I read what I expected. Sure, the entire Justice League doesn’t appear, but honestly, in this day and age of decompression, did you really expect a done-in-one snapshot?

There’s enough action, question, and interesting character work to capture a reader’s attention, and Jim Lee back on art details is never a bad thing.

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Why Target One?

Originally written for PopMatters.com, but I’ll throw the unedited, direct version up here anyway.

The DC announcements, for now, are over, and we the readers understand the plan set for September when DC relaunches its publishing line and sets forth 52 new comic book series.

But I still want to talk about it. It’s big and, while already over discussed to death, this event will dictate much discussion by fans and critics alike for sometime to come. Most likely, years from now, the historians (you know, the comic book ones) will look back at this summer and the next 6 months to ponder what it meant in the grand scheme. Was this the moment to predict the end, or was this beginning of a new golden age? Or, was it just like any other renumbering we, the readers, see so often in the modern super-hero market?

True, there are these questions, but I’ll save those for the future writers and pundits. For now, another questions taps about my mind.

What’s the creative direction and tone?

With the brunt of the announcement, before all of the specific details, I immediately put forth an opinion on Twitter  that a relaunch is all good and fun, but for it to really make a mark, talent behind the books is necessary. I still stand by such an opinion.

Why? Comics sell and generate favor by their talent.

That should seem like common sense, right? That a good comic book sells well as a bad one sells poorly, and the focus of most readers is the artists and writers producing the work? Well, things rarely make sense in comics, and such belief has not always been the case. Instead, for most of its existence, the super-hero market has been dominated by fanfare and expectations of “what happens next,”which, in result, have created an environment ignorant of creative talents and the actual, real people involved.

But that’s kind of changing, now. Publishers are printing the creative talents’ names on the covers of super-hero periodicals, and the font size seems to be increasing each month. Readers now list their favorite artists and writers and name off their most notable works. The unofficial movement, positivity, and sometimes unneeded care of “Team Comics” chants and hollers for creator rights as well as exposure.

Comic readers are leaving the character/plot-driven mindset behind. They’ve entered the age of the creator being real. The internet has given their reading a new intent as Twitter and podcasts present live coverage of the behind-the-panel process. We watch writers, like Marvel Comics’ self-dubbed “Architects,” as if they are the stories and characters.

Understanding this, it would seem important that a new line of books be headed up by strong talent. And by strong talent, I mean writers and artists who both “wow” through quality but also possess a dedicated audience while holding a presence in the industry.

In an ocean of 52 comic book series, it’s very doubtful that even half are something worthwhile. But 15, maybe 20? That should be doable, and I feel DC may actually have a line up to do that.

Here’s a list for the sake of a list:

Justice League Geoff Johns & Jim Lee
Wonder Woman Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang
Aquaman Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis
The Flash Francis Manapul & Brian Buccallato
Green Lantern
Geoff Johns & Doug Mahnke
Batman Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
Batman: The Dark Knight David Finch & Jay Fabok
Batwoman J.H. Williams III, Haden Blackman & Amy Reeder
Batgirl Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf & Vicente Cifuentes
Catwoman Judd Winick & Guillem March
Batwing Judd Winick & Ben Oliver
Swamp Thing Scott Snyder, Yanick Paquette & Francesco Francavilla
Animal Man Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman & Dan Green
Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE Jeff Lemire & Alberto Ponticelli
Hawk & Dove Sterling Gates & Rob Liefeld
All-Star Western Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Moritat
Grifter Nathan Edmundson, Cafu, & Bit
Action Comics  Grant Morrison & Rags Morales

Personally, not all of these announced titles float my boat, but I think this is a case where everyone could potentially receive a piece of the pleasure pie.

Example: the snobs and critics get their J.H. Williams’ book while the fans can happily read Batman by David Finch.

Both groups, both audiences of comics, have the selected few they follow in this now creator driven market, and I think DC has made it clear to have a nice, rounded group of creators to hopefully speak to and draw attention from all sorts of comic book readers.

Sell comics to all we can. Let’s not target one audience. That’s the plan.

And speaking of speaking to the multiple audiences, DC is in this move to hopefully restore sales and inspire new life-long comic book readers. Well, what better market to target with all of this mainstream press than the lapsed reader of 1996.

If you know comics, you know the 1990s were a big time. Spawn #1 sold a million some copies, and Todd Macfarlane probably bought a space shuttle with that money. Point is: comics were spread wide across the populace in the 90s, and it was a time for the industry to make a lot of money.

It seems like DC has the major players to possibly drum up that excitement again. They have just the right arrows to target those readers who left comics with the collapse of the later 1990s.

Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Scott Lobdell, and Bob Harras.

Two of the biggest artists of the 90s (plus, they are kind of iconic for the time), the guy who wrote X-men in the 90s (X-men was BOOMING in the 90s), and once Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics (in what decade? The 1990s when the X-men were BOOMING).

Three guys, arguably four, who were single-handedly responsible for the 1990s super-hero aesthetic. Now they are all in one place generating a comic book event whose scale could probably only be contained by an era such as the 1990s.

Coincidence? I think not.

As Bob Harras found his way to DC last year and Jim Lee became the new co-Publisher, they probably set out to make  a portion of their line 1990s inspired. It’s what these guys know and do.

That look and that vibe sold comics, and it was a time when the industry possessed a rapid energy. Now they are channeling and pumping that energy into this new, drastic course change in hopes to once again capture that 1990s Boom.

The issue is, it’s 2011 and I’m not sure I’m in the mood for another round of Jim Lee knock-offs or 17 Batman titles. I always find it better to progress rather than re-capture the past, but hey, DC is after the varied audience and this may bring back some of the 1990s faithful.

Plus, Morrison is writing Superman in Action Comics, so DC is certainly after something forward thinking.

Finally, for the best discussion yet on the DC Relaunch, all should listen to Episode 44 of the Wait, What podcast. Hosts Jeff Lester and Graeme McMillian bring in comics retailer Brian Hibbs, and they bring up very, very good points about what this could mean.

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The Internet Blew Up

And I was off to the side, trying my best to be snarky on Twitter. In case you’re wondering, I feel I failed miserably. But, oh well. The Marvel Bullpen of modern day made up for my suckage.

So, DC, eh? This is a big deal. The Internet storm may appear just like any ol’ comics Internet storm, but this is no simple costume change or cancellation. This is a LINE WIDE costume change and cancellation. Heh. Sarcasm aside, it is big as DC is going ALL THE WAY with this. No pussy footing nor any hesitation. DC altered itself over night.

What I find most interesting though is the backlash from many people on twitter. Granted, comic fans are always the most prone to complain, and the lose or altercation of continuity is always controversial among the nerd contingent…but most people online, reading comics have wanted this, right? Especially the digital angle of this?

My friend Joey Aulisio (Chemical Box, Matinee Idles) made this point to me, and I immediately felt he was right. This is what most have wanted. I know I’ve requested a line wide reboot or a drastic change to hero comics aloud at least once or twice. Yet, the Internet cries and cries or acts as if this isn’t good enough.

Not good enough?

What else could DC possibly do? Give the books away for free?

The day-and-date digital aspect is the bold move, though. Continuity and costumes aside, super-hero comics will still be super-hero comics. The digital direction will really bring the change, whether it is for better or worse. Brick-and-mortar comic stores will see some effect, and I highly, highly doubt Marvel ignores such a move. Not saying to expect a Marvel announcement next week or anything. This is more of a “wait and see” action. Either DC strengths the digital market in a big way, or DC proves that the world really doesn’t want digital comics. Either way, this may be the telling tale of the oh so talked about digital comic book.

And, possibly, the down fall of the physical direct market.

But, yeah, I’m sure you’ve heard enough “doom” talk at this point.

Personally, I actually want digital comics to fail to some degree. Not a total failure, just not enough success to make it the mainstay. I’ve said it before, and I’ll type it now; the industry needs an even mixture of both print and digital. Balance always seems to be the key to life, and I am willing to bet balance in this situation will work just the same.

Let’s see what happens.

As for the DCU, I need talent on these books. 52 new titles is A LOT of comics, and only 10 strong books will not cut it. If DC really wants to make this work and keep this excitement post the initial announcement and hype, they need quality and artists who will make people talk issue-to-issue. So far, from what has been announced, I feel there may actually have a shot at this. First off, even though I have been low on Geoff Johns before, I have to say the Justice League team is good. If DC wants to capture the spirit of Marvel’s Avengers franchise, which I feel they do, this is very smart of them to put the company’s top two on a book like Justice League.

Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang on Wonder Woman? There’s the energy that character desperately needs. Azzarello has wrote off mainline DC projects before, but I don’t know, I feel if he is working with an artist of Chaing’s caliber, the result could be different this time around. We know it will at least look good.

Manapul writing and drawing Flash. Again, energy. Whether Manapul can write or not, I almost don’t care. That dude can draw. But it is a writer/artists project, and I like that DC is continuing this experiment even though Finch’s Batman went no where and Daniel’s Batman wasn’t all that. Comics still needs writer/artists, and Manapul may have the special juice to do it well.

Johns/Reis Aquaman will make people read. Hell, I may even give it a shot.

DC Universe Presents sounds interesting, and Bernard Chang is drawing some of it.

Those five projects announced, and we haven’t even heard of the Morrison or Snyder projects yet. Plus, DC does tell of more new talent doing work.

And, I bet the J.H. Williams Batwoman shows up at some point. Would explain the long delay on the series.

My question, though, is where is Chris Roberson in all of this? The man came in on a terrible Superman run and somewhat saved it for people. Plus, the dude writes a Vertigo book for Mike Allred. Hello?

Even if this fails, I feel we always have to respect DC to some degree for this. They took the risk, and honestly they went from second stringer to suddenly taking all of the industries attention for the rest of the year. DC is pushing the game right now. Especially, again, with this digital thing.

And, hey, Flashpoint went from the event few cared about to probably the series everyone watches. Smart business move  by them. Flashpoint now sells more. Fuck, I’ll probably buy it because, well, I know I come off as cynical a lot, but honestly I am excited about this. I like the DCU very much. To me, the DCU is super-hero comics, and I like the idea that DC may finally publish a few good, exciting super-hero comics.

My eyes are glued.

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Thoughts: First Wave #1-6

Too bad this failed. It had potential.

Not that I am a big supporter of the golden age or pulp heroes. Most of them uninterest me and bringing them back just feels regressive rather than cute. With Brian Azzarello’s voice though, the golden age suddenly peaks my curiousity. I am in no fashion a huge Azzarello fan as most of his work still remains unread by me, but I have experienced the epic 100 Bullets. That comic and its well focused narrative are enough to keep Azzarello’s name in my sight line. Plus, the concepts of power and agenda tossed around in 100 Bullets seem to be appropriate for a story about golden age super-heroes. They walk as gods among men, and being set in some form of the DC Universe (because, you know, of Batman) they represent the first of a new breed. As George Washington would like to think, precedence is everything, and these characters are setting it for the “superman.” Power and agenda have a lot to in that situation. At least, that’s how I see it.

Some of these ideas were brought about in First Wave. Azzarello touches upon being post-human and leaving a good example. The story just falls on its execution, and it sometimes becomes down right confusing. First Wave involves a plot where Doc Savage, The Spirit, and Batman are all brought together to stop a post-war mad scientist, and this scientist’s mad scheme seriously feels like a rip-off of  Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor. Not that I even mind a threat similar to something I have seen before. There is plenty of room for a writer to approach common threats  from different angles, but the Superman Returns threat, Luthor building his own island, was pretty weak to begin with. A mad man running off to his own land is in no way comparable to a mad man invading the citizen territory. The invasion factor creates  fear by taking away the idea of santuary. Mad man on his own island? Oh well, at least he is not bugging the rest of the world. Azzarello then brings nothing new to this conflict. He still directs the characters toward the super-island where they sneak around and fight henchmen. A dinosaur does appear, and it does fight The Spirit – which is kind of cool in a weird nerdy way. That’s the extent of excitement in the fight, though. Especially since Rags Morales brings absolutely nothing to this comic besides artwork I would rather not look at.

Morales likes to split the page horizontally…a lot. Now while this technique can be affective in conveying a widescreen sensibility, a horizontal split can disrupt a page’s ability to build a sense of speed. Smalls panels or large-count grids add something to a comic’s pacing. They can cause the reader to read faster as their eyes do not linger on small panels as long as wide panels. Look at this Savage Dragon example:

Small, little slivers of the page (the whole page can be seen somewhere else on the internet). This example comes from Savage Dragon #168, the conclusion to the book’s “Emerpor Dragon” arc. Erik Larsen captured much excitement from the audience with this story, and this moment acts no different as the conclusion draws close. This point in the plot shows the meeting of Dragon and Darklord, a character important to the series, and it stands as a scene of excitement and pushes the reader toward the resolution. The artwork and panel design reflects that completely. Ignoring the dialogue, you zip through this portion of the comic at a rapid pace. The panels feel like brief flashes, the sense of claustrophobia they carry increases the reader’s heartrate, and the close focus along with the bright flares of red and pink grip the eye’s focus.

Now look at the Morales example:

Long, dimly lit panels that seem to carry a lot in their gutters. For a helicopter boarding a plane, you would think the prensentation would appear exciting, but no…Morales gives us one, measly, wide panel and expects it to completely capture this action in the story. There probably is much more to landing a helicopter within a plane than one long focus shot, but no attempt is made to show it. Instead, the details lie in the panel gutters and the story gains no sense of visual appeal or energy.

The coloring on this book also acts a detriment. I understand that colorist Nei Ruffino is probably going for the “noir” look, but I think the dimness in his colors really adds to the snore factor this comic suffers from. Never did my eyes perk up. Rather, they fell into a state of drowsiness, and I honestly had a hard time finishing this comic because of how unexciting it looked.

Let’s get back to the “confusing” statement I made earlier, though. I jumped over it. Azzarello threads this plot together in a jarring manner. The cast starts out seperated but then must come together, but they come together in a car crash way. I really cannot even remember how Doc Savage meets Batman and Batman meets the Spirit. Why? I don’t even think I knew when I read it. It just seemed to happen. The Spirit is tricked by some scum bag to investigate a suspicious delivery truck, which then turns out to house Doc Savage’s father’s body. Bruce Wayne (Batman) is contacted by the mad scientist to join him, so Bruce ends up on the island. The rest show up at some point. Granted, Azzarello does spend time jumping around the cast in order to show their progression through the story, it’s not like he just literally throws the cast on the island, but the writing makes it feel that way. The subplots never feel fully form, and the main conflict actually feels undetermined until about halfway through the series.

I am also confused as to when this story takes place. Guts tells me post-WWII, around the time the actual golden age of comics took place, but other details within the artwork seem to suggest otherwise. Character designs span from clothing that looks 1940s-esque to football jerseys and outfits that resemble the modern day. It just comes off as inconsistant. Plus, it does not help give this world a visual definition. The intergration of modern day technology could help defne the world. Like a juxtapositon between 1940s apparal and jargon and modern day computers and iPods. The mix and match of clothing and character style seems to take the “golden age meets today” idea a bit far though, and it completely throws it off.

One compliment I will pay: I feel Azzarello did a really nice job capturing the voices of Doc Savage, Spirit, and Batman. Each sounds how I would expect them too. Thier dialogue stands out when they all share a panel. Also, I will give Rags Morales this one page:

I just like the way he draws Batman here, like a big, black sheet that just eats that crook. It’s a cool visual.

I have to say this was poor, though, and I feel Azzarello may have just let this happen. He is the type of writer, like Ellis, to take a corporate gig and just churn out something that is well enough yet does impress. The help of delays and impending doom for the First Wave line may have also contributed to a lack of interest on Azzarello’s part. Oh well. I am not done with the work of Brian Azzarello, and I still remain excited for his next two projects, Batman: Knights of Vengeance and Spaceman, because they involve the other half of 100 Bullets: Eduardo Risso. Those two working together should produce some quality, and speaking of Risso…maybe he should have drawn First Wave?

If he did, I would have automatically liked it a lot more.


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Missed Opportunity: Nick Spencer Writing Supergirl

Supergirl #60 is certainly a tease.  At least it was for me because I have become a pretty big Nick Spencer supporter over the past few months.

 Early on though, I never paid him much attention, and I even kind of disliked Nick Spencer. He was this guy who hit the scene with all of these mini series from Image Comics, and most of them just gave off this vibe of “movie pitch.” At least to me. I saw a book with a Nick Spencer credit on it, and I immediately rolled my eyes. Who was this guy? He just popped up, playing in the medium I treasure the most, and in very little time he picked up a movie option for his Existence 2.0/3.0 series.  What the hell? Was this guy just in it to score Hollywood deals? I had to investigate. Sadly after a purchase of Shuddertown, my opinion did not brighten. The writing was fine looking back on it, but the artwork? I am sorry, but Adam Green did not help me love a Nick Spencer comic. More like it, he only strengthened my “Mr. Hollywood” idea. Green used a lot of photo reference, making Shuddertown a book staring Keanu Reeves, James Gandolfini and Giovanni Ribisi. Maybe that idea would be cool if done intentionally, but I was not feeling that intention. Shuddertown dropped low on my list, and Nick Spencer followed. Boom, shut the door – I was done with Nick Spencer.

Page from Shuddertown #3

But then came Morning Glories, and like the rest of the internet my ears perked up. It was a book that certainly hit hard because of its mystery appeal, but what I found most important was its voice. Right out of the blue, from a guy still relatively new, came this comic that sounded so bold. The first issue packed this excellent vibe of generational confrontation, and Spencer amped that through his style of storytelling. It was like this guy just showed up and said, “Hey, I love Grant Morrison and Bendis.” I mean, that’s how his comics read, but even still I am seeing some other angle to his work as it progresses. Like there is this bit of “Spencerism” emerging. I cannot describe it, but I just find it absolutely exciting to see a guy come into comics and with only one year under his belt already carry a strong authorial voice. He is not just another comics writer producing the standard; he is a comics writer who has things to write about. That is refreshing and important because I feel most comic book writers just come in to tell a story. Nick Spencer certainly tells stories, exciting ones, but the guy also lines his stuff with actual ideas. For one, there is that generational divide. The concept of the youth wanting to do things their way, to prove the adults wrong and show them how it is done, but find that task not so easily accomplished. I see that idea in Morning Glories, but also T.H.U.N.D.E.R.Agents. Technology and its hold on our daily lives? Look toward Infinite Vacation. Granted, it is early in his career and some of these books have only just begun, but I seriously already see these concepts as Spencer’s ground of interest. It is a nice touch, and it makes his books feel important but also interconnected.

Cover of Morning Glories #1 - 4th Printing

I cannot remember why I actually pre-ordered Morning Glories – as typed, I was done with Spencer – but I am so glad I did because that first issue went FAST.  Without my act of pre-ordering, Morning Glories probably would have been lost on me, and I think that would also be the case for Spencer’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R.Agents, Infinite Vacation and this issue of Supergirl.

Which would be a total shame because all those comics are great, even yes, this ONE issue of Supergirl.

What makes it great is what I highlighted above: the Spencer voice. When I think back on it, Supergirl has never been a character to hold my interest. I doubt I have ever picked up a book because she was in it, nor have I really read much of her. Why? To me it did not seem like the character had much to offer. For the time I have been reading comics, Supergirl has been through many changes and her book really has not held a definition. The Supergirl title has just been a part of the Superman line, offering nothing else really. Granted, I know the Sterling Gates run is held rather positively, but I have not read it and really I do not feel inclined to. From what I have heard, it kind of seems like another superhero book. I have read plenty of those. When Nick Spencer was added to the equation though, I was all ears. Again, he is a writer with a voice, and after hearing him talk about his plans for the book on Word Balloon and CBR, I was really excited because what he described seemed like an excellent approach to Supergirl. Plus, the Spencer interests I noted earlier…those would work well on an adolescent superhero.

Issue number sixty of Supergirl brings all of that excitement to life. You read it and it certainly is Metropolis and Kara Zor-El, but it is also very Nick Spencer. Those interests, those concepts Spencer seems to play with are all in that issue and they blend so well with the subject. Supergirl is that youth figure Spencer likes to focus on , but what makes her even more striking is the symbol she represents. The character, wearing the “S” shield and being a part of the Superman family, has something to live up to. That sense of pressure but also responsibility inherently makes her a figure of youth who has something to prove. I think Spencer really shows this well by pitting Kara against four fairly well-known Superman villains. Rather than providing the character with joke threats, Spencer puts her in front of guys capable of knocking Superman down. Kara puts up a fight though. She may not completely succeed, but she does get in a few good hits. Which is important because it shows that the character is trying to be influential or at least that she’s not a push over. Spencer makes Kara this character who wants to represent the “S” symbol well, and show that she is capable of doing the job well.

Panel from Supergirl #60

I also like the roll of technology in the issue, which is again another Spencer interest. Yeah, it’s very Social Network-y, but I think the main attraction of the Alex character is his use of technology as the villain. For one, Alex is a very cool, kind of “I know all”, quiet bad guy. For the most part, every time we see him he is just sitting at a dinner table, tapping on his cell phone, but when the character speaks Spencer shapes his dialogue in a very “Aaron Sorkin/Mark Zukerberg” way. Every line the character drops is spot on, and it always feels like the character is manipulating the situation, or that he is almost more aware of it than the other characters. It is affective, but more important than that is the tech aspect. I just really dig the idea of Supergirl against technology. Why? Supergirl is an adolescent, and it is the case nowadays for adolescents to be constantly bombarded by computers and the internet. Really, the same thing is happening to Supergirl in this issue; a villain is basically using his iPhone against her, to manipulate her. I think that is very much a social comment by Spencer, but it is also an interesting angle at which to explore the superhero genre. What if superheroes had to fight the internet? Or better yet, what if the internet was giving superheroes privacy issues? I just find that an exciting idea for a sense of evil in a superhero comic, especially when it is applied to a teenage character because then I feel it is even more relevant.

So there it is. My excitement and expectation was met, maybe surpassed. In that one issue, I felt Nick Spencer made Supergirl matter, and he brought along his bag of interests to throw around the character in able to explore them a bit more. More importantly, Supergirl #60 was a superhero book with a voice rather than just a collection of the usual story pages.

But wait? Nick Spencer did not write the next issue, number sixty-one. Oh yeah,  he left the book…

Or was it more like DC took him off? I mean, I do not really have any substantial evidence that DC actually took him off rather than him leaving on his own, but the vibe I get suggests to me that they did. For one, Spencer did offer two tweets the day the announcement of his leaving was made, and those tweets did not read like it was his decision.

@nickspencer Okay all, breaking some bad news today– I won’t be doing SUPERGIRL after all.

@nickspencer But hey, nobody cry for me! All kinds of cool stuff coming up in 2011, so stay tuned and all that.

(For the actual tweets, click the above links.)

The word choices of “after all” and “nobody cry for me” suggest to me that leaving Supergirl was not his decision. Plus, there were no other comments from Spencer about the situation. If he had decided to leave on his own, would you not think he may have come out and explained that? The entire situation just rang odd to me, especially when Spencer was just talking about his Supergirl run the day before on CBR. The guy sounded excited for this run.

Cover of Supergirl #61

But yeah, for some reason Nick Spencer only penned issue sixty, and I think that is very disappointing because issue sixty-one is a bit below the standard of awesome set in the previous issue. Honestly, I was not even going to bother with the first James Peaty issue, but for the sake of writing this post I wanted to at least give Peaty’s take a chance. I picked it up, went into it with a clear head, but still I kind of found the disappointment I expected. Granted, it is not bad. The issue has some enjoyable moments, Peaty does carry over some of the “Spencerisms” I mentioned earlier, but the voice and style of it all is just missing. The key example has to be the Alex character. As typed previously, Alex of issue sixty was a quiet, manipulative villain who carried a vibe that he was cooler and more sophisticated than the traditional comic book bad guy. James Peaty takes all of that away though and turns Alex into the traditional villain. His version of the character talks much more, and I half expect him to just off on the usual rant about “how he will stop Supergirl!”

To be fair though, there was one scene in Peaty’s issue I did enjoy and that was the Lois Lane/Supergirl scene. Spencer did setup Lois in his issue to have more of an active role. He brought out the journalistic side of her, reminding us of the “go get’em” attitude the character can have and using that to create an extra force of good in the story. Peaty does carry that over, and I felt he wrote it fairly well. He keeps the journalism aspect tied in through Lois discussing research with Supergirl but also having Lois show up in the book in a news helicopter. I really liked that bit. Like some superhero, Lois shows up out of the sky carrying this sense of mission. Like Supergirl, Lois also represents something. It may not be the Superman symbol, but it still is the media or more importantly the freedom of the press and the duty to inform the people. So, I have to give James Peaty a little credit. It was a nice scene.

The issue overall does not compare to Spencer’s though, and it is because Peaty’s issue lacks a voice. Again, it is not a bad comic book, but it does not stray far past the standard. When I look at the situation surrounding this title, I just shake my head and wonder “why?” If DC did remove Nick Spencer, what were they thinking? No offense toward James Peaty, but Spencer is a pretty hot up-and-comer in comics right now and his writing is certainly stronger than most. I mean, DC had him. They HAD him. How could they just loose him? Did they not want their Supergirl book written by someone who has that much attention on them right now? Or better yet, did they not want such a distinct voice writing one of their books?

It is just so odd to me, especially when one issue of Spencer’s run does exist. Just compare the Spencer issue to the James Peaty issue and feel that new found perspective you gain. The thought of what could have been is kind of  unsettling.

Oh well, I guess another general superhero book cannot hurt anything.

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