As the vendors’ booths go back into storage, and the sights, sounds, and smells of a hundred-thousand conventioneers fade into memory, let’s consider some of DC’s announcements from this year’s Comic-Con. Obviously these aren’t presented in any particular order, nor do they represent all of DC’s Big News over the weekend.
THE FLASH: REBIRTH
Look, I grew up with Barry. I was sad when he died. I dared not to hope when Bill Messner-Loebs and Mark Waid teased his return. However, I was happy for Wally West, and came to see Barry as the avatar of an age which had passed. There’s not much more I can say about this topic, since I’ve said a lot already. I’ll read Flash: Rebirth to see how Geoff Johns and Ethan van Sciver handle the continuity gymnastics. I’ll probably be satisfied with the results, since it doesn’t sound like Wally’s going anywhere. It’ll be a tough sell, though.
THE ONGOING ZATANNA SERIES
Paul Dini writes a fun Zatanna, but there’s a tiny part of me wishing he had more “Vertigo cred.” Still, I’m looking forward to it, because this will be the first-ever Zatanna ongoing. Not only had I asked for more solo-female-headliner series, but as a bonus, this one will have no overt ties to a better-known male character. It should also increase the total number of solo-female ongoing series to five (joining Wonder Woman, Manhunter, Supergirl, and the upcoming Power Girl). Still, it’s too bad that we probably won’t see John Constantine in a supporting role.
SUPERGIRL AS THE “THIRD SUPERMAN BOOK”
Speaking of solo-female-headliner books, Supergirl’s getting ready for a fall link-up with Action Comics and Superman. This one isn’t really a San Diego announcement, but it did get some attention. I’ve been wanting to talk about it for a while as well.
I have mixed feelings about this development. On one hand I feel like Supergirl should be able to stand on her own, without having her sales goosed by guest appearances; and I think this qualifies as a perpetual guest appearance. Obviously Supergirl will always be associated with Superman, so the question has become how distinct to make her.
My other question, though, is about the Supergirl title’s intended audience. Linking Supergirl with the two Superman books seems calculated to insure that the Superman audience reads Supergirl too. It’s the same “Sinestro Corps strategy” (for lack of a better term) which helped raise the numbers of a similarly subordinate title, Green Lantern Corps.
And make no mistake — Supergirl is a subordinate (perhaps the better word is “auxiliary”) title. As long as Kal-El is Superman, the existence of a Supergirl book will be optional. The same goes for Robin, Nightwing, and Green Lantern Corps. That doesn’t mean that she’ll never headline Action Comics, or that DC shouldn’t try to make Supergirl the best superhero comic on the stands. However, like those other auxiliary characters, Supergirl pays for the benefits of her association with a certain amount of independence. Indeed, DC will soon have a female-Superman title — the aforementioned Power Girl series — free of such overt associations. That’ll relieve Supergirl of some of the burden of role-model-hood.
Just some, though; because anyone who wears the red “S” will be expected to live up to Superman’s example. The forthcoming all-ages Supergirl miniseries (Cosmic Adventures In The Eighth Grade) won’t allow the main-line Supergirl book to go “roadside” (metaphorically speaking). In a perfect world, Supergirl wouldn’t need the help of her cousin’s books, because she’d be produced by people who could make her adventures entertaining on their own terms. While Sterling Gates, Jamal Igle, and Keith Champagne may well be those people, it doesn’t exactly help the “cause of independence” to have Gates known as Geoff Johns’ buddy.
By the same token, though, that might reassure the Geoff Johns fans that the new Supergirl will be more in line with their sensibilities. If the idea is to get the Action and Superman readers to shell out an extra $2.99 per month (just pennies per day!) on a “third” Superman title, then it’s not unreasonable for them to be rewarded in the form of that title’s interaction with the other books. In short, they’re paying for more continuity.
However, doesn’t the flip side of that strategy amount to a rejection of those readers who don’t want to buy into the larger Superman continuity? Is DC implicitly steering them towards Power Girl and/or to CAIT8G? Is that OK?
Well, I don’t have a definite answer. I have a feeling that the tighter Supergirl gets with her cousin’s adventures, the more calls there will be for her independence; and the more independent she gets, another group of fans will decry her marginalization. Maybe the link-up is the best thing for now. It should bring Supergirl a good bit of the Superman readership, and with that a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. This particular incarnation of Kara Zor-El just sort of sprung into being fully-formed, and was given her own title apparently on the strength of pent-up fanboy demand. It’s taken almost four years for the character to get some grounding, and if that means “rehab” using the main Superman books, so be it.
NEIL GAIMAN’S BATMAN
Honestly, it’s hard for me to get too excited about this news. Oh sure, it’s Neil Gaiman! writing probably the most mainstream of superheroes; and yes, the story’s title is a clear reference to “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?”, Alan Moore and Curt Swan’s reverent, touching Silver-Age-Superman capstone.
But I guess that’s part of my hesitation. I’ve enjoyed Grant Morrison’s Batman run in large part because it’s lasted so long (20 issues and counting). It hasn’t been Morrison’s best work, or even his best Batman work, but it’s been exciting and different. Even the Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka years still stuck to familiar costumed-crime parameters. Brubaker and Rucka did good work, don’t get me wrong — but they didn’t put Batman on the kind of sustained journey of self-discovery that Morrison has.
Put another way, it’s not that I’m not looking forward to the Gaiman issues. I’m naturally eager to see what he does in the wake of “Batman R.I.P.” (After all, the Batman pastiche that turned into the classic Astro City arc “Confession” came out of a long car trip Gaiman shared with Kurt Busiek.) I guess I’m just sorry it’ll be over so quickly. Man, 20 issues’ worth of a Gaiman Batman would be something to see.
(Unless you’re this guy — wow!)
MILESTONE AND THE ARCHIE/MLJ SUPERHEROES
You know, I think I’d have been happy simply with the Milestone characters returning, never mind their being integrated into the main DC line. I got a copy of Static #1 at the 1993 Chicago Comic-Con’s Milestone panel, and stayed with the title ‘til the end. I liked the other characters pretty well too, having been exposed to many of them through crossovers (including with the Superman titles).
Perhaps one of the best things about the return of the Milestone characters is the possibility of having their original creators work on them again. I couldn’t be happier that Dwayne McDuffie will be writing Icon’s meeting with the Justice League. Now if only John Paul Leon would draw Static in Teen Titans….
As for the Archie/MLJ superheroes … well, I’m a little less sanguine about their prospects. Although the Milestone characters are 15 years old, they were still created with modern sensibilities; whereas even the most faithful treatments of the Archie superheroes must need some updates. Because the Milestone characters can be transplanted without much fuss, they’ll have more of an impact (ha ha) on the DC line than the Archie characters will.
Obviously, both the Milestone and Archie superhero lines were designed to compete directly on the shelves with DC’s superhero books. However, whether by implication or design, the Milestone titles addressed the lack of diversity across DC’s superhero line, and especially at the top of the line. Therefore, they can’t help but be complementary to DC’s characters. By contrast, the Archie superheroes were a line unto themselves, back when diversity wasn’t a concern. While the Archie heroes have their own histories, and no doubt their own fanbases, they still seem unremarkable, and therefore tougher to promote. For example, the Black Hood’s costume is pretty similar to Wesley Dodds’ second Sandman outfit, and despite his primacy the Shield must convince readers he’s different from Captain America. (At least he should have a leg up on General Glory.)
To its credit, Dan DiDio appears to recognize this problem, telling Newsarama that the differences would come out of the characters’ particular motivations. However, motivations only become clear in the context of stories; and the Milestone characters benefit from their immediate, unmistakable differences.
This is not to say that Icon, Static, or Hardware can be reduced to “the black Superman/Spider-Man/Iron Man” — far from it. Such shortsightedness would be completely unfair. Nevertheless, the idea of “the black Superman” can hook readers in a way that “the first superhero to use an American-flag costume, 14 months before Captain America” cannot. Maybe that’s why the Milestone characters will be “show[ing] up in [various] series” in “very organic and very natural” ways, while the Archie/MLJ characters will be staying in The Brave and the Bold.
Still, it’s pretty ambitious of DC to coordinate such mass migrations. The last time it happened, with the Charlton characters, Crisis On Infinite Earths was involved. Here’s hoping they each find their own distinct roles, and are successful on their own terms. (And since I mentioned the former Charlton characters, here’s hoping none of the Milestone or Archie/MLJ characters becomes the new Designated Martyr anytime soon….)