So, armed with Bleeding Cool’s list of the September solicits, I’m going to sit down and take a critical look at what we currently know about all 52 series debuting in September. Of course, none of these comics have come out yet, so this will be pure speculation, based on what the solicit says, and the track record of the creators involved in each book.
Also, I should probably admit that I’m not really the intended audience for these comics. I like super heroes, and like to read good comics about them, but I'm a tough audience. I like to work a bit as a reader, and if I'm not given any work to do, I need to be dazzled by audacity so I don't get bored. I tend to prefer personal, quirky, idiosyncratic projects to this kind of corporate-owned-and-orchestrated stuff. So since DC doesn’t currently employ very many writers or artists I’m a fan of, I won’t be buying many of these books myself. Consider this more of a clinical look at the reboot, then, dissecting the books’ appeal to the Fanboy Nation, and to this mysterious audience of casual readers DC’s courting on-line. It’ll get smart-assed from time to time, I’m sure, but I’ll try to keep my personal biases clearly identified as such.
And with that, away we go…
The Team: Geoff Johns and Jim Lee
The Premise: At the dawn (or at least second breakfasts) of the age of heroes, Batman brings together a team to combat a mysterious threat too big for him to tackle alone.
This book will be launching in the past to establish the heroic foundation of the rebooted DCU, then (according to Jim Lee) moving on to the present day. This new JLA origin story works fine for me, considering the way the modern interpretations of these characters interact, and will probably make a lot of sense to readers familiar with the team mostly by reputation. No word on the exact final line-up, but we know the book will at least feature the original core six: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Flash. Oh, and Cyborg. Which-- whoa, weird! Cyborg is now a founding member of the Justice League?! Guess he's replacing Martian Manunter. Which, I should add, does nothing to endear this book to me at all. At. ALL.
The Appeal: For me, zero. I love the Justice League, but this creative team is like my own personal funnybook Kryptonite. AND they seem to be taking Martian Manhunter off the team, in case I forgot to mention, which not only makes this the worst Justice League book evar(!!1!), but also gives me even more reason to hate them.
In the world of People Who Aren't Me, however, this book is a perfect storm: it‘s being positioned as DC‘s flagship series, and Johns and Lee both have massive fan followings that could combine to make this a funnybook store sales juggernaut. I’d guess that it’s going to have good mass appeal, too. Johns’ storytelling style is very mass-audience-friendly, and the fresh start may limit the amount of history he tries to pull in. Lee should be fine, too, but as long as I’m talking about him…
The fact that DC’s chosen Jim Lee to redesign their characters in a way that appeals to a fresh new 21st Century audience cracks me up. His sensibilities might have looked fresh 20 years ago, but now? I dunno. This is symptomatic of the biggest problem I see with the new line in general: how are they supposed to draw in a new audience when the books will, for the most part, be done by the same people who are doing non-mainstream-friendly versions of them now, and guys who were popular with huge funnybook dorks 20 years ago? But more on that as we progress…
Justice League International
The Team: Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti
The Premise: To deal with the world’s uncertainty over the growing super-human community, the United Nations forms its own super-team, with an international line-up (half of whom are American): Batman, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, Rocket Red, Vixen, and the August General in Iron. Apparently set in the present day, which some sources are reporting as “around five years” after the debut of Superman.
The Appeal: Fanboy-only. Jurgens is a solid (if unexciting) funnybooks-as-usual storyteller. His clear style could bring wider appeal, but that team line-up tells me this book is intended as comfort food for older fans who liked the JLI of the 80s. It’s also, I suppose, the continuation of Jurgens’ Booster Gold book, considering how front-and-center Booster is on the cover, and that was definitely a hardcore Fanboy sort of comic. The old JLI still has tons of fans, though, so this may move quite a few more copies in the funnybook stores than the Booster solo title ever did.
The Team: Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis
The Premise: Aquaman has renounced the throne of Atlantis, presumably so he can go out and have adventures or something. Adventures he will apparently find in the form of a long-lost undersea race that emerges from the deepest ocean depths.
The Appeal: Potentially, quite large. As I said above, Johns’ track record with the Fanboy audience is strong, and his approach also has great potential appeal to the mainstream. Plus, Aquaman is one of those characters everyone remembers. He wouldn’t be the butt of so many successful mainstream jokes if there wasn’t name recognition there. And all that’s required is an interesting take on him to make people forget the jokes and get interested for real.
The Team: Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang
The Premise: Wonder Woman protects humanity from the whims of the gods! In pants!
Seriously, though… I haven’t heard a lot of discussion about it as yet, but this sounds to me like the most radical character revamp in the batch. Gone is Wonder Woman’s ambassadorial role and the “warrior for peace” concept that so very many of her writers over the years have had such a hard time wrapping their heads around. Gone also are the last vestiges of the bondage fantasy stuff built into her from the ground-up by her creator. But they’re replaced by things that were already integral to her background in Greek myth, and leave the surface of the character virtually unchanged in the public eye. Other than the pants, of course, which honestly aren’t that big a deal to me…
The Appeal: Potentially, big across the board. Wonder Woman is universally-known, and the whole “pants” thing has garnered a lot of attention out there in the wide world. Azzarello is almost guaranteed to bring a fresh approach to her as a character, too, one with the potential to appeal to folks outside the normal Fanboy circles. And Cliff Chiang draws pretty pretty pictures with both imagination and a touch of realism that may also prove popular both inside and outside the Fanboy ranks.
For me, this book is a definite maybe. I often don’t enjoy Azzarello’s work, but the stuff I do like, I tend to like a lot. And Chiang is one of my favorite unsung funnybook artists. Also? With just a couple of minor tweaks, I think the pants could be a really good look for her. So my fingers are crossed.
The Team: Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
The Premise: The Flash fights crime with the amazing power of Runs Fast!
And that really pretty much seems to be it. There’s some stuff about a new villain who can be everywhere at once, but otherwise the solicit indicates that this is… The Flash, unchanged and unadorned.
The Appeal: Hard to tell. The Flash is another character most people know, and “Runs Fast” is a nice, simple super power that just about anyone can understand and enjoy. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel.
Of course, not reinventing the wheel doesn’t really create a whole lot of excitement, so I’d think they’d want to go for a blockbuster creative team to generate that buzz. But writer/artist Francis Manapul isn’t incredibly popular, and is more or less an unknown quantity on the writing side of things to boot. So his stuff’s going to have to be really amazing to gain this book anything more than its current pleasantly middle-class status in funnybook store sales.
The Team: JT Krul and Freddie Williams II
The Premise: Captain Atom gains atomic powers that make him nearly a god! But he may lose touch with his humanity in the process. So, essentially, that’s Dr. Manhattan: the Series. Only fair, I suppose, since Alan Moore based Manhattan on Captain Atom to begin with.
The Appeal: Hoo-boy. When you take a premise conceived by perhaps the best writer in comics history, and give it to the man who wrote what was widely considered to be the worst comic of all time… Well, anything can happen, I suppose. Krul’s Rise of Arsenal sold well in spite of the overwhelmingly negative reviews, and his work has the sort of edgy, gritty (but ultimately kinda stupid) appeal that the last quarter-century has proven will always sell to a certain section of the dork community, in and out of the Fanboy Nation (Blade, anyone?).
His past work has shown him to be pretty ham-fisted when it comes to deep psychological issues, however, so he seems an ill fit for a book with this sort of premise. Any hope I personally had of enjoying a sci-fi super hero comic about the psychological consequences of perception-altering super powers is pretty much gone. I said I wasn’t going to pre-judge, but I can’t see this being anything other than a train wreck.
The Team: JT Krul and Dan Jurgens
The Premise: Green Arrow breaks laws and villainous jaws in his globe-trotting quest for justice! The solicit talks about Ollie Queen’s “inner demons, and makes it sound like he’s gotten his fortune back, considering that he’s using “cutting edge weaponry and illegally obtained intel courtesy of his team at QCore.”
So… That’s some kind of cross between Tony Stark and the Punisher, then…
The Appeal: Same as Captain Atom, above. Krul may sell to fans of the “grim and gritty” style who’ve traditionally been almost exclusively the customers of Marvel Comics. And Green Arrow’s certainly no stranger to that sort of take, as anyone who followed Mike Grell’s take on the character in the 80s can attest. Dan Jurgens, with his clean, workmanlike art style, seems an odd fit for the gritty premise, but his storytelling is crystal-clear and very new-reader-friendly. So this might do well.
I wonder, though. At his base, both in appearance and basic concept, Green Arrow is a modern-day Robin Hood. That’s a simple idea that anyone in the mainsteam audience can wrap their head around with ease. And some variation on “rob from the rich and give to the poor” could generate some hotly-argued and headline-grabbing stories in these troubled economic times. Going more the “driven bad-ass” route with him seems like a waste.
The Fury of Firestorm
The Team: Ethan Van Scriver, Gail Simone, and Yildray Cinar
The Premise: Two high school students (Ronny Raymond and Jason Rusch) combine to form the composite hero Firestorm the Nuclear Man! The book promises to deal in “a new vision of nuclear terror,” and features bad guys known as the Dog Team.
The Appeal: Firestorm is one of those characters that’s hard not to like, but who’s never been able to carry his own series very convincingly. So what does this incarnation have that previous ones have lacked? Well… This Firestorm combo mirrors the one on the Brave and the Bold cartoon, so there’s that. And Firestorm is a cool-looking character with a neat power set that could attract some mainstream readers, so there’s that as well. The high school setting may also give it some youth appeal (something sorely lacking in modern spandex funnybooks).
But the really big gun in Firestorm’s arsenal this time around is Gail Simone. Though, again, I’m not a fan personally, she has a very mainstream-friendly writing style, one that puts me a bit in mind of Joss Whedon. Getting her in front of a wider dork audience that doesn’t normally read comics might just turn out to be the best move DC’s making this fall. That solicit doesn’t sound like anything we haven’t seen a million times before, though, so she may have her work cut out for her with this one.
The Savage Hawkman
The Team: Tony Daniel and Philip Tan
The Premise: Carter Hall works for an alien archeologist (I shit you not), and must become Hawkman to stop an alien plague from wiping out humanity!
Looks like they’ll be focusing on the two-fisted warrior aspect of Hawkman here, with a heavy emphasis on those ancient weapons that have been a part of the character from day one. So it’s violent action with a science fiction theme! Conan with wings!
The Appeal: Well, shit, I think I just hit on that: it’s Conan with wings! Which sounds pretty freaking cool, now that I’ve said it out loud. I could see that selling pretty well to just about any action-loving dork, Fanboy or not. Granted, it’s also being done by my two least-favorite of Grant Morrison’s Batman collaborators, so I probably won’t be picking it up. But I could see this going big, if it’s handled correctly.
The Team: Eric Wallace and Roger Robinson
The Premise: The world’s third-smartest man runs a fabulously life-positive high-tech corporation and, in his guise as Mister Terrific, fights against the horrors of science gone mad!
This pitch is one of the few that really sounds like a 21st Century concept (ironic, considering that it's based on one of the most Golden Age of the Golden Age heroes). It’s nice to see a black protagonist in a book with this sort of premise, as well; liberal as super hero funnybooks tend to be, they also play very strongly to racial stereotypes in their attempts to come up with iconic characters. Hell, just the fact that he’s not “Mister Terrific Black” is a step forward…
The Appeal: Potentially, pretty big. As I said above, this is one of the few series that feels like something created in modern times, and that may attract modern readers. It almost sounds *gasp* like a manga concept, in fact, and could draw in readers who are outgrowing or getting tired of their Japanese funnybooks.
It also hits just the right tone of over-the-top fun to appeal to people (such as myself) who like that sort of thing. That solicit, in fact, gives the book a lot to live up to. It sounds like something out of a Grant Morrison or Matt Fraction notebook, and it’s going to require a deft touch, balancing big crazy ideas with high-energy storytelling that doesn’t get too bogged down in soap opera dramatics. What little I know of Eric Wallace (which is, essentially, that he wrote a run on the Flash that didn’t seem all that interesting to me) doesn’t tell me that he can pull it off. But I’ll definitely give the first issue a flip-through, just to see if he can live up to the hype.
DC Universe Presents
The Team: Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang
The Premise: It’s a series of mini-series, spotlighting characters that DC doesn’t think can carry their own on-going titles! First up is Deadman, who hops from body to body, helping people in some way that‘s undefined in the solicit. But there’s a bad guy out there who wants to make sure that all the souls that Deadman saves instead go to Hell!
So that’s… Quantum Leap. With a zombie face.
For DC Universe Presents: This one’s going to live and die by the quality of the individual minis that run under its banner. Not sure why they aren’t just doing these as regular stand-alone minis without the on-going series banner, in fact.
For Deadman: I think DC’s screwing the pooch with this one. The original Deadman concept is incredible: he was a ghost hunting down his own killer by possessing the bodies of the living. Now, THAT is a concept the mainstream audience could embrace. There’s just one problem with it from the perspective of DC corporate: it’s inherently self-limiting. Eventually, he’s got to catch the killer, or the audience walks away in frustration. But once he does catch the killer, as Deadman did decades ago, the story’s over. And stories with built-in endings are not what decades-spanning corporate spandex franchises are made of.
Now, this new status quo gives Deadman a never-ending battle to fight, framed within the character’s established modus operandi. It’s perfect for DC’s corporate interests, and puts a very well-designed character back in the spotlight. But it ignores what I think is the character’s real base appeal: he’s not a hero. He’s the star of a cleverly-conceived revenge fantasy. He may do heroic things in the name of his quest for vengeance. He may help some people out along the way. But ultimately, he’s not a guy who goes out and does good for the sake of doing good. That’s something most people can relate to. It’s also refreshing in the world of super hero funnybooks, and I think it’s a large part of what made him so popular to begin with.
So I have to wonder why they’ve decided to turn him into some sort of ghostly super hero, when the reboot gave them the perfect opportunity to do a remake of the original concept. We’re not talking about classics here, after all. The original Deadman comics weren’t very good, and would probably have been justly forgotten if it weren’t for the Neal Adams artwork and the character’s amazing basic appeal. It’s the perfect example of a great idea with poor execution, ripe for a modern remake. Give it to the right creative team, plan it out as a 100-issue series with a beginning middle and end, and you might have a classic that DC could keep in print for years. And exploit for movies or TV, to boot.
Aaaannnddd… I think that’ll be all for now. Come back next time for Part Three, when we get to Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, and the so-new-it’s-old phenomenon of DC’s “dark” line…