Sunday, July 3, 2011

DC Reboot Round-Up, Part Five: ...Aaand the Rest!

So here we are on the final lap of the Round-Up, but we’re not out of interesting things to talk about. In fact, the first book on our list today is a transplant that may be the key to understanding the post-reboot DC Universe…

Stormwatch


The Team: Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda

The Premise: Much as I‘ve been enjoying coming up with pithy and/or sarcastic summations of these books, the solicit for this one is so complicated that I’m just going to quote it verbatim:

They are Stormwatch, a dangerous super human police force whose existence is kept secret from the world. Directly following the ominous events of SUPERMAN #1, Adam One leads half the Stormwatch team to recover the [INFORMATION REDACTED] from deep in the Himalayas. Meanwhile, Jack Hawksmoor and the rest of the Stormwatch crew look to recruit two of the deadliest super humans on the planet: Midnighter and Apollo! And if they say no? Perhaps the Martian Manhunter can change their minds…

So… wow. Let’s unravel that one step-by-step, shall we? Well, the book’s core premise is pretty easily summed up: Stormwatch is a super-human secret police force. Pretty simple, and something of a tonal shift for the DCU. Because “super-human secret police” is not a concept I could see existing in this world as we currently know it. But Stormwatch is a concept being brought over from Jim Lee’s Wildstorm universe, formerly an Image Comics imprint, until DC bought them out early in the Noughts. The Wildstorm books have continued publication set aside in their own separate continuity ever since, their importance and sales constantly declining under DC’s stewardship (and, it must be said, editorial interference).

But now DC is bringing Wildstorm into the mainline DCU fold, and with it, if this book‘s premise is anything to judge by, something of Wildstorm’s more realistic (or, honestly, perhaps just bleaker) tone. And so: super-human secret police. Again, that’s not something I’d have expected to see in the DC Universe as it stands now. I mean, there’s Checkmate, I suppose, but honestly… Checkmate? Even with Mr. Terrific and Alan Scott attached, that group’s never been one I’d consider a serious threat if, say, the Justice League went rogue. Stormwatch, on the other hand… This is the team that went on to become The Authority. You know, the super-team that killed God. If they wanna shut the JLA down, that’s one hell of a fight.

Of course, they’re not quite there yet, if they haven’t recruited the Midnighter and Apollo, so they‘re rolling back the clock on Stormwatch just like everything else. Not much mention of the rest of the line-up here. The Authority’s Jack Hawksmoor is on-hand, thankfully, as well as a new character with the awesomely Kirbyesque name of Adam One. And then there’s the continuity bombshell here: the Martian Manhunter. That one especially caught my eye; the Manhunter’s one of my all-time favorites. He’s also, traditionally, a founding member of the JLA who is conspicuously absent from the reboot line-up of that team. But if Stormwatch fills the role I expect them to in the rebooted universe, I think I like his inclusion here in spite of myself.

One last thing lurks in that solicit that we can’t really make sense of as yet: the redacted information from Superman #1. Lord knows what’s up with that, but it’s a nice teaser both for this book and for that one. One problem: Stormwatch, at least in the initial solicitation info, is due to come out before Superman. That may have been fixed by now, but if not… Well, I guess we’ll see if DC Editorial’s gotten any better at scheduling their tightly-plotted continuity…

The Appeal: Unless Stormwatch has more of a stand-alone approach than it sounds like from the solicit, this one may be Fanboy-only. Hints have been dropped that this book has a deep role in the rebooted history (the “Project Superman“ Flashpoint book is rumored to be the origin of Apollo, for instance), and the “secret police” premise may place the team at odds with the more traditional DC heroes as they emerge into this new history. Which is a set-up I like, but it puts the book in an ironic position: as the Authority, they were perhaps the biggest mainstream draw DC’s had in the last 20 years.

(A mainstream draw killed, as the Swamp Thing series was killed more than a decade earlier, by interference from a DC editorial staff still running scared from the ghost of Frederic Wertham.)

Stormwatch is being written by Paul Cornell, who I believe I’ve already said seems one major series away from being a funnybook superstar. His approach to scriptwriting also has strong mainstream appeal, though, and that could attract a wider audience. Bottom line for me: I’m intrigued by the premise here, but haven’t liked any of Cornell’s stuff enough to actually pay for it. So I’ll be giving this first issue a very serious looking-at, but don’t hold out much hope that this will be a book I’ll be picking up.


Voodoo

The Team: Ron Marz and Sami Basri

The Premise: Priscilla Kitaen walks the line between good and evil, and explores the new DC Universe, though “the things she sees are not always what they seem.”

This is one of those solicits that doesn‘t really say much of anything. It promises violence and moral ambiguity, but tells us nothing that helps me decide if I want to read it, or avoid it like the plague. What we do know is this: Voodoo is another Wildstorm transplant, a former member of Jim Lee’s WildCATS team (which doesn’t seem to exist anymore). In the past, she’s also starred in solo series that had a vague horror feel to them, as befits her name. This new series would seem to be more in that vein, but really… There’s no telling.

The Appeal: Who knows? Considering that 90s funnybook mainstay Ron Marz is attached, I’d guess Fanboy Only.

I do find it interesting that we’ve got another Wildstorm character tasked with exploring the rebooted world. Is that an indication that the Wildstorm stuff is playing a big role in the changes we’re seeing, or did somebody just like the idea that they‘re the “new guys“ even though everybody‘s starting from a level playing field here? It’s all pure speculation at this point, of course, but I’d kind of like it if they did play a significant role in the reboot. It would be a shame for these characters to just be worked in like the Charlton heroes were back in the 80s, with zero impact on the world around them. Especially considering the tonal differences between the two fictional realities at play here.


Grifter


The Team: Nathan Edmondson and Cafu

The Premise: The world’s greatest con man is branded a serial killer when he begins slaughtering people that he claims are actually inhuman creatures only he can see!

So that’s They Live, but starring Brad Pitt instead of Rowdy Roddy Piper…

Nah! Even I can’t be that flip about this one. Grifter is the third and final Wildstorm transplant of the reboot, and this premise has echoes of the character’s original set-up as part of the WildCATS team. So are those Daemonites we're seeing on the cover there, or will their role be transferred over to an existing DC Universe race with a potentially similar MO. Like, say… the White Martians, perhaps?

The Appeal: Potentially, pretty broad. It’s a great premise, Grifter has always been a Fanboy favorite, and it’s written by Nathan Edmondson, a truly promising indie comics talent of the type who could really make this reboot sing. His “Who is Jake Ellis?” is one of the best action-adventure funnybooks out there right now, with an exciting modern-retro approach that should do well with a wide audience. I’d overlooked his name on this solicit until just now, but his presence makes this a must-buy for me, and a potential big seller if DC can actually get it in the hands of the mainstream audience.


Static Shock

The Team: Scott McDaniel and John Rozum

The Premise: Brilliant-but-nerdy high school student Virgil Hawkins is secretly Static, the Electromagnetic Man!

Pretty basic premise of the Spider-Man school here. Static is another transplant, this time from Dwayne McDuffie’s Milestone characters. Dakota (Milestone’s primary fake city) gets a mention in the solicit, but only to explain that Static’s family is moving from there to New York. So we’ll see if Milestone has any impact at all on the rebooted history.

The Appeal: Iffy. DC bought the Milestone stuff from McDuffie primarily (only?) to get this character, who was at the time starring in a very successful Saturday morning cartoon. This book comes a few years too late to really capitalize on the success of that show, but hey. Static’s a good character that could really take off in the right hands.

Those hands in this case are writer/artist Scott McDaniel and co-writer John Rozum. McDaniel’s been kicking around DC for a long time now. His art’s fallen in and out of favor over time, though his penchant for vertiginous camera angles has always been eye-catching. He’s an unknown quantity as a writer, though. Rozum, on the other hand, is not. He’s no stranger to the Milestone characters, having worked on them back in the 90s, and is the current writer of the wonderfully-bizarre Xombi series. That book is, apparently, a casualty of the reboot, though, and Static’s not the sort of character that really calls for the inventively macabre ideas that make Xombi one of my current Big Two favorites.

So where does that leave things here? Not sure. DC’s shooting for the male 18-34 age bracket, with content that’s appropriate (if I remember Didio’s spiel correctly) for ages 14-50. Either of those age ranges could, on the low end, capture folks in the mainstream who have fond childhood memories of the Static cartoon. There’s always been a bit of Fanboy Nation support for him, too (though never enough to support a series for long). Race could also play a role here; there are few enough positive black role models in lead roles in super hero funnybooks that Static may draw a whole new portion of the mainstream audience that comics have never really tapped into. It’s nice to see a black lead, regardless. The super hero ranks have always been a little more lilly-white than they ought to be.

Blue Beetle

The Team: Tony Bedard, Ig Guara and Ruy Jose

The Premise: Jaime Reyes is a high school kid in possession of a powerful alien weapon that transforms him into the high-tech hero Blue Beetle!

Another minority hero, another teenager, and another transplant (DC bought the Charlton characters so long ago now, though, that the transplant thing doesn’t really apply).

The Appeal: If DC plays their cards right… Pretty wide. The Jaime Reyes version of the Beetle has gotten big mainstream exposure as one of the more popular guest stars on the current Brave and the Bold cartoon, so the time is right for DC to capitalize on him in their bid for that larger audience. With the proper focus and tone, this premise could also really tap into the things that make Ben 10 such a popular show, and that audience dwarfs anything super hero comics have seen in a long damn time.

The task of attracting that audience falls to Tony Bedard, a solid middle-of-the-road funnybook writer whose comics (though they’re not my cup of tea) tend to be intelligent and fun escapism of a type that might just hit the right note. At the very least, he could make this a perfect book for teen readers who are outgrowing the Cartoon Network action cartoons and might be interested in reading the comics whose storytelling tenants those shows have been copping for so long.


And now we’re into the last leg of the reboot, a collection of mid-card and curtain-jerker titles, the kind of comics-as-usual fare that will no doubt sell well enough to the Fanboy Nation, but which I don’t see having a whole lot of mass audience appeal. So I’m dropping the “Appeal” section for these titles unless I think it’s warranted, and instead focusing on what these books might say about DC editorial’s mentality going into the reboot. One warning: my opinions on that front may not be very pretty…

Birds of Prey


The Team: Dwayne Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz

The Premise: Black Canary and Starling are covert ops super heroes, on the run from the law and taking out bad guys nobody else can touch!

The Mentality: I’m both fascinated and shocked that they’re going for such a complete reinvention of Black Canary. One of the most popular second-stringers in the DC stable, she’s got a big Fanboy Nation following that’s made Birds of Prey one of the very few funnybook series to debut in the last 20 years that’s been able to sustain itself over time. It even sounds like they’re tinkering with the book’s basic premise as a street-level all-girl Justice League, though the cover does feature Katana and (I’m guessing) Rose and Thorn pretty prominently, so that “team book“ flavor may remain in spite of what the solicit itself says.

I guess I’m looking at this from a “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” perspective, because I don’t see this having much mainstream appeal as it’s been solicited. DC may disagree, though. They’re pushing writer Dwayne Swierczynski as a mystery novelist, as opposed to how I know him, “that guy who wrote that run of Cable I didn’t like.” (Which, now that I’ve put it that way…) But, I dunno. I can’t help but think that the pre-reboot Canary, joined by Batgirl, the Huntress, and whatever other second-stringers they want to put on the team, might have had a wider appeal. I mean, “Black Canary and Starling” does have kind of a classic Golden Age hero-and-sidekick feel about it, but I don’t know if that’s the sort of thing the 21st-Century mass audience is going to go for.

But speaking of sidekicks…

Teen Titans

The Team: Scott Lobdell and Brett Booth

The Premise: Red Robin (former Bat-sidekick Tim Drake) teams with belligerent thief Wonder Girl, hyperactive Kid Flash, and blank slate genetic weapon Superboy to stop an international organization that’s targeting super-powered teenagers!

The Mentality: THE NINETIES ARE BACK, MOTHAFUCKAS!!!

Ahem. Seriously, though… Uhm… Well… The 90s are back. I discussed Scott Lobdell’s role as the best of a bad lot in my look at the Superboy solicit, but man. Couple him with Brett Booth on art, and you’ve got a book that reeks of everything that made the 90s such a cesspool of super hero suck. I could be wrong. This book might turn out to be something really spectacular. And if so, I’ll happily eat my words. But from where I’m sitting now… If it looks like crap, and it smells like crap… It’s probably crap.

The Appeal: Luckily for DC, however, crap sometimes has a very wide appeal. Exciting-but-creatively-bankrupt material often sells like gangbusters, especially in depressed economic periods. And while much of the 90s material I’ve been bitching about was so inept that mainstream audiences might very well laugh at it, Lobdell and Booth are both competent enough creative talents to pull it off the same way Michael Bay does.


Red Hood and the Outlaws

The Team: Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort

The Premise: Jason Todd has put his “daddy doesn’t love me” days as the Red Hood behind him, but now outlaw heroes Arsenal and Starfire have latched onto him in their desperate need for a daddy figure of their own. So he’s back in the game as the leader of Red Hood and the Outlaws!

Okay, that was a horribly cynical summation of the premise. But it was fun to write, and probably echoes the truth of the matter more than a punchy ra-ra version would have. So I’m standing by it. And all joking aside, I kind of like the idea of a bunch of pathetically-damaged loose cannon super heroes running around killing bad guys and trying to work through their daddy issues. Give that premise to Pete Milligan or Warren Ellis or somebody, and it could be tremendously entertaining. It’s (once again) written by Scott Lobdell, though, so it probably won’t be anything like that much fun. But still. Dare to dream!

The Mentality: Did I mention that the Nineties are back? I did? Okay, good. Because give them some ridiculously giant guns, and this book would look right at home in the 1995 Image Comics catalog. Seriously. You’ve got the Robin that kills people, Green Arrow’s junkie sidekick, and a half-naked alien chick whose super power doesn‘t have a “stun“ setting. I do like that somebody’s finally remembered that Starfire is a “take no prisoners” kind of character, though. She really was supposed to be the Teen Titans’ answer to Wolverine, after all. Just with less fur and better tits.

Deathstroke

The Team: Kyle Higgins and Joe Bennett

The Premise: Slade Wilson is the world’s greatest mercenary. Some say he’s been in the game too long, but those people usually wind up dead. Because Deathstroke the Terminator is the best there is!

The Mentality: Nineties. Back. Got it.

The Appeal: Actually, I’m all for the adventures of a super-powered mercenary. A marriage of men’s adventure fiction and super heroes might be a lot of fun, and attract a pretty broad audience. Writer Kyle Higgins is new enough that I don’t have a good feel for his work, so I’m not going to make any calls on that front. But in theory, this could be a surprise hit.

Suicide Squad


The Team: Adam Glass and Marco Rudy

The Premise: The Suicide Squad is a team of death-row super-villains given a second chance by taking on suicide missions for the government!

Tempted as I am to make a “Dirty Dozen” reference here, this is a tried and true premise for the Suicide Squad, dating back to the 80s. On-hand for this incarnation are Squad mainstay Deadshot, King Shark, and Harley Quinn.

The Mentality: As with many of these mid-card reboots, DC seems to be going for a lowest common denominator approach here. They’ve put Harley in the skin-flashing gothic-slut costume from the Arkham Asylum video game, for instance, and the Suicide Squad is a concept that lends itself to that kind of approach anyway.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a strong premise, and they’ve put together a nice team. Harley’s a great character no matter what she’s wearing, Deadshot’s death wish makes him a natural (though that redesign for him shown on the cover is god-awful), and King Shark adds a nice “what the fuck” element. Granted, the fact that Deadshot’s the most stable of those three bodes ill for their being able to function in the field, but in the right hands, that in and of itself could be an asset for the book. Writer Adam Glass has primarily written a bunch of Deadpool comics, though, so lord knows.

OMAC

The Team: Dan Didio and Keith Giffen

The Premise: Brother Eye unleashes his One-Man Army Corps upon the world in his on-going war with the forces of Checkmate!

So that’s Kirby awesomeness wrapped up with some decidedly non-awesome DC Noughts crap that probably should have been jettisoned in the reboot. Keith Giffen will, I’m sure, turn in a very nice Kirby homage on the art, but Dan Didio’s track record as a writer of funnybooks leaves a lot to be desired.

The Mentality: Didio’s the boss, and he wants to write himself a funnybook! I just wish he wasn’t playing with one of Kirby’s toys to do it…


Hawk and Dove


The Team: Sterling Gates and Rob Liefield

The Premise: Hawk is a no-nonsense conservative waging a war on crime! Dove is a peace-loving liberal who prefers less violent means of combating evil! But together, they’re far stronger than they are apart!

At least, I’m assuming that’s still the idea here. The solicit doesn’t actually mention the political dichotomy that’s been at the core of the Hawk and Dove concept from the beginning. But I can’t imagine DC not wanting to take advantage of it; in the current sharply-divided political climate, these characters are more relevant than they‘ve been since Steve Ditko created them in the 60s. Certainly, the plot they do mention (involving a group that’s trying to start a second American Civil War), would seem to lean that way, and a fresh start focused on that could be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it seems stuck with…

The Mentality: Let’s not undo all that stuff Geoff wrote last year.

A lot of the information in the solicit seems geared toward forwarding the characters’ new status quo as established in Brightest Day. Hawk’s adjusting to what seems to be a new life for him, and Dove… is dating Deadman.

That last bit is the real clincher, I think. If you didn’t read Brightest Day (as neither I, nor the entire audience of mainstream and lapsed readers DC’s supposed to be appealing to, did), the detail that Dove is dating Deadman just might be the biggest what the fuck moment of the entire reboot. I mean, they were at least smart enough not to mention that Hawk’s just come back from the dead in the solicit, but… Deadman?! What the hell does he have to do with Hawk and Dove?! I had to go to Wikipedia to figure out what’s been going on with these characters, and that’s maybe not something you want in what’s supposed to be a clean start. Which brings us to…

The Appeal: Now, I understand that Brightest Day was very successful, and that DC wants to capitalize on it. But tying this reboot version so tightly to that book, which was designed to dig into decades of continuity and fix the mistakes made without actually erasing history, seems like folly to me. At the very least, it dooms this series to Fanboy-Only status when its core premise might very well attract a far wider audience if they kept it simple and started over from scratch.

I’m so flabbergasted at the solicit’s “new audience fail,” in fact, that I haven’t even mentioned the other elephant in the Hawk and Dove room: Rob Liefield. That’s right! The funnybook artist with the lowest ratio of talent to popularity in the medium’s history is back! The 80s Hawk and Dove mini was, of course, his first professional work, and I guess somebody thought it would be a nice idea to have him back for this run.

If that cover’s any indication, however… They were wrong. I mean, look at that thing! Did he draw that with his feet?! It lacks even the crisp (if poor) anatomy and dynamic layout you can usually count on from the guy! I expect Liefield art to be laughable, but that cover is just sad.

Ah well. At least he’s not writing it…


Legion Lost

The Team: Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods

The Premise: Seven members of the Legion of Super-Heroes have been flung back in time to the present-day, and must struggle to survive in a time that, to them, seems hopelessly primitive!

The Mentality: Beats the hell outta me. This is the second of two Legion series, and I can’t imagine the mentality that made that seem like a good idea. No, actually, I can. They wanted to include the Legion in the reboot somehow, but without losing the “super heroes in the future” premise. So hey, presto! Two Legion books!

The assignment of Fabian Nicieza as writer is also, I’d guess, another manifestation of that whole “the 90s were awesome!” mentality they’re operating under. Which, you already know what I think about that. I will say that he's better than I'm making him sound, though. He's one of those solid workhorse types whose work does nothing that makes it stand out for me, but he's got a clear style that spoon-feeds his audience in just the way they like. And the presence of Pete Woods as artist on this book almost indicates to me that DC's looking at this as the "big" Legion book. Which... Well, just keep reading...


Legion of Super-Heroes

The Team: Paul Levitz and Francis Portela

The Premise: Following a major disaster for the Legion, the students of the Legion Academy must step forward to fill their ranks, just as the alien Dominators launch a new threat!

So… Not a reboot so much as a line-up change, then.

The Mentality: Let’s just leave Paul alone, okay?

Series writer Paul Levitz recently stepped down (though some say he was pushed out) as DC Comics publisher. Under his leadership, DC became more like a real publishing house than a protector of copyrights, diversifying their output beyond the work-for-hire spandex books into more adult material in other genres, and (gasp!) things the company actually didn’t own outright. Material like this had been appearing the indies for years, but DC had the money and power to get those books into the hands of adult reading audiences who might never have given comics a second look otherwise. The Vertigo line, in particular, did a lot to widen the comics audience. So while DC’s chief competitors were cranking out the sub-literate crap I’ve spent so much time eviscerating today, Levitz’s DC was putting out stuff like Sandman, Preacher, and the Invisibles. If you were a reader of adult fantasy fiction in the 90s, DC was your primary funnybook source.

On the flipside of that, of course, his somewhat conservative views on what was and was not appropriate in super hero titles are probably responsible, in part, for keeping DC in second place. And that, as much as anything, probably lead to the situation we have now. The new DC is, in many ways, a direct rebuff of Levitz’s publishing strategies. They’ve discontinued many of his more forward-thinking plans, killed a few high-profile projects that were already being worked on, and gutted the Vertigo line. All the attention, effort (and backstage power, it would seem) is now concentrated on the copyrights DC exists to perpetuate.

Even their plans for those books go against what Levitz wanted for them: he opposed both the reboot, and same-day digital sales. But Levitz stepped down to go back to writing the funnybook that made him famous: the Legion of Super-Heroes. And the reboot seems to have left the Legion comparatively untouched. Whether that’s because they’ve already been rebooted so many times that nobody takes the book seriously anymore, or out of respect for Levitz, I couldn’t say. But the part of me that thinks the last year’s worth of power plays at DC represents the triumph of the bottom line over art kind of hopes it’s the latter. At least, as the lady said, it would be pretty to think so.


Aaaannnddd… That’s the DC reboot! Fifty-two solicits picked apart, made fun of, and analyzed to death! But I’m not done with it just yet. I think I’ve got one final post in me, a sort of “let’s look at the forest instead of the trees” overview to bring some disparate thoughts together, and make a prediction as to where these solicits (and their accompanying publicity hype) seem to say about where DC’s headed overall.

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