Saturday, June 25, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part Three: Franchise Free-For-All!

Before we launch off into our discussion of DC’s rebooted “family” franchise titles, a quick aside: The DC brass have been making the rounds, doing their best to sell funnybook retailers on Fall initiatives that are, in part, designed to put those very people out of business. They’ve been facing understandably tough crowds, but in the process it seems a bit of the company philosophy behind the reboot has been revealed.

First and foremost, DC will be all about the action, post reboot. “No more talking heads!” is one phrase they’ve apparently been tossing around. Which, near as I can remember, isn’t something DC’s been doing anyway, but okay. That does seem to be the predominant trend out there in the world of cutting edge pop comics these days, and it’s probably a good model to attract new young readers. As long as you couple that with words like smart, funny, or cool… You’re on to something. Unfortunately, those are NOT words they’ve been tossing around, so… Hrm.

Another interesting tidbit is that they’re aiming the reboot at males between the ages of 18 and 34. Or, in other words, the same people who are buying their books now (or does the average DC Fanboy come in at 40 or above these days?). Actually, to be fair, I’m sure they’re talking about males between the ages of 18 and 34 who don’t already read comics. Which is most likely an achievable market that’s worth expanding into, albeit one in which DC will be facing an awful lot of competition. I would hope, though, that this is just the initial wave they’re talking about here. The market for women and teenaged girls is potentially even more massive, and DC already has properties and publishing lines in place that could be marketed toward them with very little effort, as well. Of course, they’ve marginalized Vertigo sufficiently at this point that maybe that’s not in the cards for them after all…

At any rate. With all that in mind, let’s get back to those solicits, starting with maybe the most important super hero of them all...

Action Comics


The Team: Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

The Premise: Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… Oh dear god in heaven! It’s a MAN!!!

The solicit for this one is kind of sparse on the details, but Morrison himself has said that this book will be telling the story of Superman’s earliest days in the cape, sort of an “angry young Superman” take that looks at how he operated initially in the new history, and how the world responded to their first super hero. It’ll apparently be a slightly more vulnerable Superman, too, one who’s still growing in power as his cells soak up solar radiation, and thus might still be hurt by, say, an exploding shell bursting on his chest.

Perhaps even more interestingly, not long after All-Star Superman wrapped up, Morrison also said that he’d like to do just such a “Year One” take, incorporating the character’s early righteous anger and Depression-era social activism. So I’m hoping we see some wife beaters and evil landlords getting tossed out of windows in this book, or maybe a corrupt politician or two being bullied into public admissions of guilt. But that’s just speculation and wishful thinking.

The Appeal: As a huge Grant Morrison fan, I’m a little biased here, but I’d imagine it would be pretty broad. Morrison’s already shown that he has a rock-solid understanding of the Man of Steel that’s proven popular with Fanboys, intellectuals, and mainstream readers alike. His one weakness in terms of the mass audience is his penchant for complex narratives that require actual thought on the part of the reader. His Final Crisis series, for instance, was so demanding that it drove many Fanboys into a rage. But his recent work has shown him incorporating that sort of thing into stories that still work for people who are only looking at the surface and just like to be wowed by cool ideas.

On the artistic side, meanwhile, Rags Morales is a solid draftsman of the type traditionally assigned to the Superman books. His clean lines and clear storytelling make his work easy for inexperienced funnybook readers to follow, and he has just enough flair that his stuff’s not boring to look at, either. I’ll be most curious to see how well he works with Morrison. Artists with more traditional styles don’t always deal well with the more bizarre ideas he throws at them. I like Rags’ stuff, though, so we’ll see.

Superman


The Team: George Perez and Jesus Merino

The Premise: It’s Superman! Doing Superman stuff! Without his underpants!

The solicit gives us nothing here, other than that this is the book that will establish the modern-day Superman status quo. One thing that’s been confirmed about that status quo elsewhere, however: the Superman / Lois marriage is no more. Not as in, they’re divorced, but as in, the marriage has simply been erased from history by the reboot. Also, as already mentioned: Superman will no longer wear his underwear outside his pants, and will instead wear an infinitely more practical belt. To hold up his… blue… unitard…

The Appeal: With 80s fan-favorite George Perez attached, I’d assume this is the Fanboy-placating Superman title. Of course, they may be counting on the new costume, and the new unmarried status quo, to draw interest from the Mainstream as well. DC is reportedly (and perhaps not unreasonably) concerned about Superman’s image. He’s still the most widely-known super hero in the world, but he’s widely thought of as terminally unhip, the squarest of the square. A straight-laced boy scout type in a world that’s embraced the anti-hero as the norm. They’re so worried about this that they reportedly killed a story that was supposed to have shipped this week because it featured a scene depicting Supes rescuing a cat from a tree.

(That they replaced it with a story starring Krypto the Super-Dog may tell you all you need to know about how hopeless DC editorial really is on the subject of what makes people think a funnybook is “cool.”)

Certainly, what we know about the reboot so far seems to be addressing the surface of the issue, getting rid of the source of the underwear-on-the-outside jokes and making him single again to further distance him from the “Super-Dad” image. Of course, the erasing of the marriage is causing a great deal of controversy in Fanboy circles, but I’m indifferent. Writing Superman and Lois as comics’ first real power couple might make the marriage work in the character‘s favor, but having a single Man of Steel does open up more story possibilities. There are rumors that they may explore the intriguing fan-service concept of a Superman / Wonder Woman romance, for instance, but it’s also more versatile just from a simple plot perspective. Stories thrive on conflict, after all, and if two characters are married, there’s only so far you can ratchet up the conflict without doing a divorce story (something to be avoided with Superman even more than stories where he rescues cats from trees). You can tell good stories either way, and since they’ve never really done much with the marriage anyway… Why not untie that knot when you’ve got the chance?

I’m less sanguine about the costume change. I’m hardly a purist on these things. I was fine with it when they dropped the trunks on Batman, for instance, and I’m an advocate of Wonder Woman’s pants, too. But in this case… The redesign is just plain bad. It looks like something I might have come up with when I was 12. Sure, the trunks were kind of silly-looking when you think about it, but they served two very important purposes: they broke up all the blue, and they covered the Super-Bulge. Now the costume’s not only more plain-looking, but the big guy’s gonna be running around looking like he’s got a squirrel in his pants to boot.

Seriously, though, I think it’s the “belted unitard” that kills it. The trunks created the illusion that Superman’s outfit was a two-piece thing, and this full-body one-piece look just doesn’t fit the “Man of Steel” persona. They've tried to give it sort of an "armored" look, I think, but that makes even less sense. Just give him pants, for god’s sake! Even if they’re the same color as the top, a hard break in the body line, with a functional belt to hold them up, would go a long way toward making that costume more acceptable to a modern mass audience.


Superboy

The Team: Scott Lobdell, RB Silva, and Rob Lean

The Premise: Superboy is a genetic experiment grown by the scientists at Project NOWHERE to be used as a weapon! But can a weapon become a real person?

(Roy Thomas says yes!)

So it looks like they’re taking the character back to his (modern) roots, but stripping away the headstrong braggadocio that made him compelling. It also, from what I’m told, matches the character as seen on the current Young Justice cartoon, thus making him more recognizable to the largest audience he’s ever had.

The Appeal: We’ve seen this “Pinocchio” approach elsewhere (endlessly on Star Trek), and it can be a compelling hook in the right hands. Hard to say if those hands belong to writer Scott Lobdell, though. He was Chris Claremont’s heir on the X-Men comics of the 90s, a creative low point at Marvel with an appeal that’s hard to gauge due to the inflated sales figures caused by speculator boom of the era. I’m sure he’s got fans out there in the Fanboy Nation; the young fans of the 90s are now the aging Fanmen of today, after all, and nostalgia plays a big part in any Fanboy’s taste in funnybooks. But it remains to be seen if the 90s Marvel bag of tricks will fly with modern audiences.

“Nineties Marvel” seems to be something DC’s shooting for creatively with the reboot. They’ve hired Marvel’s then-Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras to be their own EIC, and he’s bringing in cronies from the era on some of these secondary books. Lobdell was probably the best writer of the lot, though, so… If you’re going to revisit the Dark Ages, I guess you should go for the barbarian with the fanciest club.


Supergirl


The Team: Michael Green, Mike Johnson, and Mahmud Asrar

The Premise: Supergirl is an unruly teenager with the same powers as Superman! But she’s not much on us Earthlings…

The Appeal: I think this concept could gain some traction. I like the idea of a heroic Kryptonian juvenile delinquent, anyway (though notice that they never say’s she’s a Kryptonian, just that she has “the same powers as Superman“). The writing team of Green and Johnson are an unknown quantity in comics, but they worked on the Smallville TV show, so they’ve at least got a little experience with the whole Superman Family thing. That show’s success also hints that they’ll be able to put something together with mainstream appeal. The only drawback I see to this one is the new costume, which… Yeesh. I like the cape just fine, but what the hell is up with those boots?!


Batman

The Team: Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

The Premise: The Bat-Books, since they’re one of only two DC franchises selling in numbers the company’s happy with, aren’t getting rebooted. There will be minor adjustments to match up with the revised history around them, I’m sure, but you don’t fix what ain’t broke. The only “reboot” concession is that Bruce Wayne will now be the only person actually calling himself Batman. The Batman Inc set-up is still out there, and will be returning for its wrap-up next year, but otherwise everything’s Bat-Status-Quo here.

The Appeal: Evidently, universal. Everybody loves Batman.

They are taking the opportunity of the new number ones to shuffle creative teams around, and Scott Snyder (who’s been getting rave reviews for his Dick Grayson stories over in Detective) will now be guiding the Bat-franchise’s flagship book. New to the Bat is artist Greg Capullo, primarily known for doing a Todd McFarlane impersonation on Spawn and, more recently, Haunt. Snyder’s a solid writer with good mainstream appeal, and Capullo will certainly bring in those 90s Fanboys, so I think they’ve got all their bases covered on this one.

Detective Comics

The Team: Tony Daniel and Ryan Winn

The Premise: Same as above.

The Appeal: Writer/artist Tony Daniel is a prominent example of DC’s initiative to let more artists write their own books. He’s been doing this on Batman for a while, in fact, so this is really just the same act moving over to Detective. I’m not a fan of the guy’s work, personally, but even I can see that there’s a certain flair to it. While he’s no Frank Miller, he’s a damn sight better than the majority of the Image Comics guys who tried the writer/artist thing in the 90s. I could see big appeal in both the Fanboy Nation and the mainstream for his work, especially with the “Spike TV” sort of audience DC’s shooting for.


The Dark Knight

The Team: David Finch and Richard Friend

The Premise: The third solo Batman on-going series is a sporadically-published spotlight for writer/artist David Finch.

The Appeal: Like Tony Daniels’ Detective Comics, this one could do quite well with both the Fanboy Nation and the mass audience of people who like empty action accompanied by pretty pictures.


Batman and Robin

The Team: Peter J Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and Mick Gray

The Premise: Bruce Wayne fights crime side-by-side with the latest Robin, his son Damian Wayne! But their partnership is a difficult one that will test Batman’s patience to the limit!

The Appeal: Damian, pure and simple. In creating this little monster, Grant Morrison has left what may be his most lasting impact on the world of corporate spandex comics. Arrogant, over-confident, and prone to a bit of the old ultra-violence, he is the antithesis of the Robin archetype, and the most successful version of the character since Dick Grayson was the Sensational Character Find of 1940. Even when written without the nuanced vulnerability of Morrison’s depiction, he’s won over most of the Fanboy Nation at this point, and can only break out bigger with the mass audience. The character just works. He’s also uniquely ill-suited to work with Bruce, and watching that conflict unfold will be a major selling point, as well. It’s about time Batman stopped being a deadbeat dad, after all…


Nightwing

The Team: Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows

The Premise: We don’t know why Dick Grayson will stop being Batman, but post-reboot he’s back in his Nightwing persona. The solicit doesn’t give any great insight into the idea behind the series, other than, you know, giving Dick something to do…

The Appeal: Remains to be seen. Dick was massively entertaining as Batman, but lord knows if they’ll continue on with the stuff Morrison did to make him a unique character with his own MO, or just go back to the vague “Batman Lite” feel he had before. The former might just finally make Nightwing the sort of breakout character he’s always seemed to have the potential to be, but the latter may doom him to more years in the funnybook mid-card. And unfortunately, writer Kyle Higgins (co-creator of Nightrunner -- the so-called “Muslim Batman”) doesn’t have enough of a track record for me to make the call.


Batgirl


The Team: Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, & Vicente Cifuentes

The Premise: Barbara Gordon is Batgirl! It’s unclear whether this is due to a rebooted history where she was never crippled by the Joker, or if she’s somehow regained the use of her legs, but whatever’s going on, Babs is under the cape and cowl again. This may be for the best. No other version of the character has ever been able to match the inherent cool factor of Batgirl secretly being Commissioner Gordon’s daughter.

The Appeal: Potentially, pretty broad. The Barbara Gordon Batgirl is the most well-known version of the character for the mainstream, and her return is bound to be welcomed by many of the traditionalists out there in the Fanboy Nation. Also, the book’s got Gail Simone behind it, and she may well be the sleeper hit of this appeal to a wider audience. As I said last time, I’m not a fan, but I could see her stuff really catching fire out there.


Batwoman

The Team: JH Williams III and W. Haden Blackman

The Premise: Kate Kane is Batwoman! She’s a hot red-headed alpha-lesbian bad-ass who fights crime! Which just goes to show that you can reduce even good characters down to mere sensationalism.

The Appeal: Hopefully, pretty broad. The whole “hot lesbian dominatrix” aspect of the character will undoubtedly draw readers like flies. The art of JH Williams, who made the character’s time as the lead feature in Detective Comics a highlight of recent funnybook history, will also be quite a draw, I think, both inside and outside the Fanboy Nation. How his complex page constructions will translate to the various digital platforms remains to be seen, though; when each page is a work of art unto itself, anything that prevents you from seeing the whole thing at once is going to be a detriment.


Batwing

The Team: Judd Winnick and Ben Oliver

The Premise: Batwing is the Batman of Africa! A high-tech member of the Batman Inc staff, he fights unrest on the most volatile continent on Earth!

The Appeal: Africa is a fascinating backdrop for adventure stories, a patchwork (some might say “cesspool”) of cultural and political unrest unlike anything Western audiences know. Toss in the potential for the occasional “jungle adventure” stuff on top of that, and you’ve got a set-up I (and I think many others) would love to read about.

But this book’s got one major thing going against it: writer Judd Winnick. On the surface, he seems perfect. He’s got a very simple, very clear (if slightly dull) mainstream-audience-friendly writing style, and he’s known for writing about social issues. I mean, if you do a comic about Africa, and you don’t focus it on the endless issues that have turned the whole continent into a quagmire, you might as well not even bother with. But Winnick gets painfully heavy-handed when he’s doing “issue” writing, and an endless stream of it might just weight this book down so much it sinks.


Catwoman

The Team: Judd Winnick and Guillem March

The Premise: Catwoman is a creature of powerful whims. She’s addicted to danger, and can’t keep out of trouble in spite of her desire to do good. Sort of a “loveable rogue” take on her, then. I’m cool with that.

The Appeal: Sexy babes and loveable rogues are always a good draw for adventure fans (Fanboy or not), and Catwoman is both rolled up in one. As a series of light, fun caper romps, this book could go far. That’s not exactly the sort of thing Judd Winnick’s known for, however, so I’m poised for a train wreck here. Winnick has his fans, of course, so it’ll most likely sell to them. But I doubt its wider appeal.


Green Lantern

The Team: Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke

The Premise: Like Batman, the Green Lantern books won’t be rebooted, either. The solicit doesn’t tell us much, but I assume the series will deliver yet still more “emotion“-powered energy beam action in the style we’ve been getting for however many years this stuff‘s been going on now.

The Appeal: Fanboys love the shit out of this book. I don’t, as I’ve outlined before. But as I’ve also discussed already in the reboot round-up, many of the things that make me hate Geoff Johns’ work also give him great mass appeal. While I suspect that we’ll see less mining of funnybook history from him in the post-reboot Lantern comics (which I suppose is sort of a reboot in and of itself for these books), this is another book that could gain quite a large mainstream audience going forward. Especially if the movie captures the public imagination even half as much as the advertising blitz surrounding it would like us to think it has…


Green Lantern Corps

The Team: Peter J Tomasi and Fernando Pasarin

The Premise: A Green Lantern strike force featuring Guy Gardner, John Stewart, and an unidentified cast of alien Lanterns keep the peace across the universe.

The Appeal: Pretty Fanboy-heavy, I’d think. It’s a mid-card book from a mid-card creative team starring mid-card characters from a popular franchise, with little to make it stand out from the pack. I suppose it could get a mainstream bump from the parent book, but otherwise I don’t see this one becoming a huge hit.


New Guardians

The Team: Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkham, and Batt

The Premise: Kyle Raynor assembles a team made up of representatives from all the other colors in the Rainbow Lantern spectrum for reasons the solicit doesn’t bother to identify.

The Appeal: Who cares why they’re working together? The draw here is the Rainbow Lanterns, a concept that’s captured Fanboy imaginations all across the land. Whether it will hold a similar fascination for the mainstream remains to be seen. I wouldn’t anticipate it gaining fans through sheer quality, though; Tony Bedard is the sort of reliable funnybooks-as-usual writer the Big Two rely on to keep the monthlies going, but I’ve yet to see him really set the world on fire with anything.

Red Lanterns


The Team: Peter Milligan and Ed Benes

The Premise: There’s not a lot of detail in the solicit, but I couldn’t possibly top its phrasing so I’m just gonna quote it in its entirety: “Atrocitus and his Red Lantern Corps return in their own series, battling against injustice in the most bloody ways imaginable!”

Heh.

The Appeal: Well, there’s a character called “Atrocitus,” apparently, and lotsa blood. You figure it out!

Seriously, though. If they fill this thing with the kind of over-the-top ridiculousness it ought to have, I think it could really blow up in the mainstream. And with Pete Milligan writing it, I’m going to at least be giving it a look.

And that’s it for today. Next up: The Experiments! DC tries things other than spandex, but wraps them in the stuff, anyway...

3 comments:

  1. Regarding your comments on Batwoman ...

    "The Appeal: Hopefully, pretty broad."

    I think a pretty broad is exactly what they think will appeal most.

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