By Battlepig 21 Comments
So it’s been about half a year of issues for us to get to know the new DC Universe. Time to look back. What has worked? What was surprising? What turned out to be a disappointment? And without further ado, let’s get right into it. Oh, one rule I set for myself. For every bad point, I have to find one good point. And for everything I didn’t like, I have to add something I liked to the list.
Demon Knights turns out to be one of the best titles
Let’s start off with a good one. Basically, sword and sorcery bores me to tears. As a general concept, I don’t find magic to be interesting and in no way good. In comics, it’s even worse and I’ve elaborated on that in my previous column. Bottom line: I like the book. It’s good, it’s funny, witty and it treats the entire genre of fantasy with a healthy disrespect. The common tropes associated with all that fantasy rubbish are exploited and ridiculed. However, none of this happens in any mean-spirited sort of way. That makes the comic refreshing, fun and adds a certain sense of adventure to it.
The plot is that an evil queen is trying to conquer England in medieval times. She happens upon a village where our cast of heroes just so happens to be. They’re not a team, they don’t even know each other yet. And with all that going on, writer Paul Cornell finds spots to add character mysteries, establish alliances and friendships and even manages to add a seemingly transgendered hero/heroine.
Men of War turns out to not have the premise that it was supposed to have.
One of the titles I was most excited for was “Men of War”. The premise sounded very interesting: It was apparently supposed to be about a group of die-hard but baseline human soldiers who have to fight on the front lines while super heroes have their big New-York-levelling fights. Or they get deployed into war zones in a world where there’s a metahuman hero or villain around every corner. And all they have at their disposal are guns and grenades and our normal military hardware. And what do you do when the good guy – who admittedly is the only one to stop the bad-guy-du-jour – goes down. Hold the villain down with a barrage of suppressing fire and give CPR to the hero? Wouldn’t you want to read that?
“Hah, you wish”, seems to have been the thought of some editor at DC. Because despite it seemingly being about this, that’s not what Men of War is actually about. It’s about a troop of somewhat die-hard soldiers in a war zone and it’s mostly talking about how badass they are. Then, occasionally, either a sort-of-ethereal woman shows up and kidnaps the main character for no reason and then releases him for even less of a reason. And then some seemingly immortal war heroes show up for also no reason. Long story short: After about 100 pages of Men of War, we have had little to no superhero-fighting or humans vs. heroes and villains. What also is missing is any sort of coherent plot other than the soldiers walking from point A to point B. Random people appear here and there and do random things only to then fade into obscurity again.
And the backup feature’s existence still baffles me. Why? How? … Why?
Aquaman turns out to be a true badass
Okay, you all know about this one: Aquaman’s power is to talk to fish. He does it often, he likes doing it. Haw haw haw. Great fun. Cue Geoff Johns writing the lord of the seas. He’s a king, but he chooses to leave his kingdom for reasons unknown and make a life for himself in a place where he’s hated. And if he’s not hated, he’s getting laughed at, at least. And no matter how much he saves the day, he still gets to hear jokes at his expense. But does that stop him? No. Blame it on his royal attitude towards everything or just chalk it up to him being awesome. Aquaman just keeps marching on, head held high. He doesn’t care what people say about him. He just saves the day. And that’s what being a hero is about.
Red Lanterns turns out to be about everything but rage
Atrocitus. A being so pissed off he pukes blood. A being so angry that it’s become his only raison d’être. He’s an unstoppable force, driven only by rage and a sense of being so annoyed that he wants to murder something in a cruel and somewhat ironic way. That’s how we met the big red guy, having more or less “just” survived the complete annihilation of his entire space sector, having sworn revenge and roamed the universe for a really long time searching for beings that are equally enraged by some cruel injustice.
Yeah, that’s not what this book is about. At all. Instead we’re supposed to swallow that now that Krona’s dead, Atrocitus has become some sort of galactic Punisher who doesn’t do much besides brooding. The sort of brooding you’d have expected to find on LiveJournal, written by people who are now in their mid-twenties and very, very embarrassed by their musings. He doesn’t do much anymore, besides screwing up his own corps. I’ve written a column on it, too.
Justice League adds the sense of adventure to comics
When it was announced, comic book fans were more or less shocked to learn that DC’s flagship-title, Justice League, was set five years in the past. Five years ago in a universe we don’t even know in the present of. How can this even work? Turns out we’re all finding out together. These heroes are people we’ve never heard of. Well, sort of. We have heard of them, but we don’t know them since they’re all new and all-different. So Justice League has been a big rollercoaster ride so far. We’ve seen Batman being somewhat rash and cocky, Green Lantern being much younger and much more reckless, Superman being outright hostile and so on. Whether you agree with the moves made by DC or not doesn’t matter, but you’re in the same spot as every reader: You’re discovering this team with the rest of us. There’s no use in going back to the issues from the 1950s to see if this or that reference explains what you thought was a plothole or some previous storyline that might influence this one. It’s exciting to meet Darkseid for the first time. It’s interesting to see how the Justice League comes together and where it will go together.
All that you had to lose for a whole new and exciting story-arc is your ego. Because you’ve spent years accumulating encyclopaedic knowledge of the Justice League, its members and cases and villains and stories and now it’s all gone. Well, not gone per se, but it doesn’t matter anymore. And if you go on about it, you sound like grumpy old men, reminiscing about how everything used to be better back in the day. And no, it really wasn’t. And you know it. So let’s enjoy this new and different Justice League together and have a bit of fun with it.
Mister Terrific turns out to do way too much
As a good idea, the editors at DC thought they’d make Mister Terrific a hugely successful superhero nerd. Basically, he’s wish fulfilment for many a comic book reader. You know them, the nerdy cellardwelling type. The people who know all maps in Skyrim by heart but couldn’t find their way around their neighbourhood if their lives depended on it. Them. As such, he has a secret headquarters in an alternate dimension, does a lot of tech babble and is also a highly desirable bachelor. As such, he gets to nail not only the Caucasian-build black woman at the highly successful company he runs but also Karen Starr who may or may not be known as Power Girl. So, even in the realm of superheroes, he’s a bit too much. He’s a bachelor, runs a big company, is a superhero and even finds time to watch the latest episodes of Doctor Who and quote it in the midst of fighting a monster halfway around the globe. In addition to all that, he manages to be at every fancy dinner party that he needs to be at. Oh, and he’s also black.
I’m not buying it. Even in context of people who dress up as bats or hail from Krypton, I just can’t get myself to believe that someone like him is actually possible. I get it, they wanted to make an awesome character who’s also black and I commend DC for even thinking of minorities. But let’s assume for a second that this were the 70s. In the 1970s, Mister Terrific would be called “Funky Disco Black Thunder Boss” or something. And that’s just not how you’re being inclusive. You know what? Let’s play Mary Sue Bingo with Mister Terrific.
That’s a couple of crosses too many for my liking. And I was tempted to put two more crosses on there under “Story doesn’t make any sense” and “not able to die”. Because every challenge Mister Terrific has faced in the first four issues was almost instantly solved. Every fight he fought was a curbstomp battle. Brainstorm ate the minds of thousands of people and Mister Terrific basically went “Bah, humbug! Eat some T-Spheres!” and then punched the guy’s lights out. Or in the most recent issue, Mister Terrific was escaping a transdimensional prison. So – and now let this one sink in – he grabs a couple of horns that grow on a fellow prisoner, and modifies nanocircuitry with it. That’s even worse than “Tony Stark built his armour in a cave”. Nanocircuitry. With Horns. Really.
Batman turns out to have really cool villains
So the Joker is out of the picture. Hoorah. And finally, a writer is not absolutely hellbent on “writing that one, defining Batman/Joker-story”. Scott Snyder has, in a stroke of genius, thought of the Court of Owls. Who are they? We don’t know. What do they want? Well, we can guess but we don’t know. Even their basic premise eludes the world’s greatest detective. And as of right now, so does their existence. The only hints he has so far are the paranoia of one of his ancestors and there being an old retconned-in nursery rhyme. The strongest clue so far is the existence of Talon, apparently a killer in the service of the Court of Owls. But he just might be a madman with delusions. You never know, crazier things have happened.
And that, my friends, is how comic books get to be exciting. They give you fresh ideas, new themes every now and then and they don’t go around rehashing old ideas and villains. Because if you do, you take away from a universe. Arkham Asylum, one of the worst mental facilities in the known universe of DC Comics gets a revolving door the Joker marches through every other week. Blackgate becomes a place where the Riddler sleeps after a long night out in town. So cue the Court of Owls, how do they fit in? Do they even exist? If so, who are they? See, that’s what I wonder. I don’t care much about what the Joker’s up to because if he does something truly amazing, we’ll get the story sooner or later. But for now, we get a new and creative villain. A party or parties of unknown who baffle the Dark Knight on an intellectual level. I mean, look at what they managed to do: They have run Gotham for generations. This alone would easily be possible, but you have Batman in town – a man who is known for figuring everything out. And it’s not like he was unable to pin them down or make no arrests related to them. No, the Court of Owls managed to completely elude the Batman. As in, he has never heard of them. And Batman is the man who knows everything. How is that not awesome?
Static Shock turns out to be awfully boring, also awful
Most people know Static from the cult classic animated TV series “Static Shock” which was somewhat based on a comic book by the “Let’s write about black people”-publisher Milestone, founded and largely written by none other than the late Dwayne McDuffie. While the publisher – a DC imprint, by the way – was somewhat successful and left some marks on the landscape of comic books mainly for its political approach to comics and including minorities in prominent roles (while not having names like Black Blackman). In Milestone-books, minority characters were not reduced to that one little titbit about them. They’re fully rounded and rather unique figures set in a rather different corner of the DC Universe. Well, it would become the DC Universe a couple years after the Milestone-imprint had folded and fans still kept talking about Static and his friends. This failed. Horribly. Static was included in Felicia D. Henderson’s absolutely awful run on Teen Titans and then quickly left the team because of some bullshit excuse like “My planet needs me”.
But still, after Flashpoint – an event that is also largely forgotten already because other than rebooting everything to its all-new, all-different state it didn’t have any consequences – Static was to get his own ongoing series. Fans were excited. I have watched the series on Cartoon Network back in the day and I was very much looking forward to it. The first issue came about. And it was terrible. Static was unrecognizable. He was no longer in Dakota. His costume was new and different. He has new villains nobody cares about and the story is absolutely terrible. The villains are bland, the heroes stupid and incompetent. The supporting cast is absolutely awful and the art is lacklustre at best. Let’s cancel this book and never speak of it again.
Teen Titans turns out to save itself
After about issue #50 of the previous volume, Teen Titans was unreadable. Lots of writers have tried and failed to make anything of it. In the end, the characters were featureless and bland and their dialogue was interchangeable and everyone’s motivation seemed to be “I do good things because doing good things is good”. And in the end, they decided that what the world needed was a terrible Mary Sue character named Solstice who made Raven vomit spiritually and was terrible in every regard. But still, a DC Universe without the Teen Titans does not feel complete. So it came as no surprise that there was a new volume of the Titans announced in the New Fifty-Two. I groaned but since I’m a Titans-fan. So I renewed my subscription… and I was pleasantly surprised.
All the characters feel refreshing and rather rebellious in their own ways. Wonder Girl refuses to be called Wonder Girl, is a skilled thief and has stolen her superpowers. Red Robin has had Batman’s training but quit being in the service of the Dark Knight for reasons unknown or unexplored. Kid Flash is more reminiscent of Impulse – he’s rash, too quick and never thinks things through. Solstice makes her return as well, but she’s now a mass of black smoke and feel occasionally terrible about it. Then we have two new additions to the team – Bunker and Skitter. They’re polar opposites: Skitter is brooding and sad, Bunker is a happy-go-lucky guy with indestructible optimism. And then there’s a decent villain. The organization known as N.O.W.H.E.R.E. which hunts down teenaged superheroes for reasons unknown. The previous volume still leaves me kind of worried that this might turn into a crapfest of epic proportions, but I’m looking forward to the next issues.
Green Arrow turns out to be generic and bland
J.T. Krul has made Green Arrow awesome again with his sort-of-relaunch of the book in 2010. Oliver Queen was no longer a mayor, no longer married – because, seriously, who thought this was a good idea in the first place? – and no longer with Queen Industries. He was a hermit, living in a forest that just so appeared in the middle of Star City. Why was it there? We will never know. How did Ollie get into the forest? Nobody cares and also, we will never know. What we did know, though is that the book was full of fun and adventure. It had good and interesting villains, a really good side-character and lots of good writing. Needless to say, when J.T. Krul was announced to be the writer of the latest relaunch with the New Fifty-Two, nobody was worried that it could be bad.
But it was. The reasons for this still baffle me. It’s not like Krul can’t write decent stories. It’s not like he can’t make weird villains work. It’s almost as if he decided “No, this can’t possibly be good. Let’s wreck it” and then proceeded to do just that. The new Oliver Queen, now younger and shaved, is not only the head of Q-Core but also yet another billionaire bachelor. His villains are – while their shtick of wanting to be YouTube Superstars and It-Girls is rather original – generic. It’s not like their premise is so generic, quite the opposite, but they’re evil for the sake of being evil, just like the Titans used to be “We do good because doing good is good”, Ollie’s new villains seem to be “We do evil because doing evil is evil.” Also, I can’t remember a single name from the book other than Ollie’s. That’s a bad sign. I actually gave up on this book at issue #2. It was bad. And I liked the former Green Arrow.
So that was that… for now. Mind you, I started writing this before the first wave of DC cancellations were announced. But I thought, regardless of what was cancelled, it doesn’t matter. Because the stories don’t suddenly get any better or worse depending on the book’s cancellation. And as usual, I’d love to hear your comments. What did you think was bad? What did you like? And why? Am I wrong with my choices? Let me know!