Thursday, 26 July 2007

DC Roundup For Last Week

OK, so 'tomorrow' in the last post should be read as 'four days from now'. Migraines can be a killer... I'll be updating a couple of times over the weekend though. This is the DCU update for last week. I'll do this week's in a few days.

The most important DCU related events of last week weren't in the comics themselves, as much as in the comics-related internet. In particular, the backlash against Countdown has grown to gargantuan proportions.

It's difficult for me to talk about this, because I in some sense became 'part of the story' a week or so ago when I dropped Countdown, and that was remarked on by many, many other sites, but I think there was a tipping point last week where everyone stopped giving Countdown the benefit of the doubt.

Weirdly, by all accounts, last week's Countdown was one of the less terrible issues, with some reviewers even rating it as competent, but it seems that people have lost patience with the title and are just wanting to see how catastrophically it fails. You expect Brian Hibbs to be fairly devastating about something that's even a moderate failure - that's what he does, and even though as far as I can see he's usually right he could be dismissed as Hibbs being Hibbs.

But when Matt Brady at Newsarama - someone who, for all his many sterling qualities, is not known for his Paxmanesque attack-dog attitude towards people working for the big two, starts being sarcastic about plot holes and refusal to take responsibility for errors, and Mike Carlin in turn insults readers who want a coherent story for their money... well, something's very wrong.

This of course has led some people to exaggerate the difficulties DC are having. It was a huge mistake, and one that will cost them a great deal of money, and may yet cost some people their jobs, to tie the company's entire line to one extremely poor comic, but it doesn't mean, as some have suggested half-seriously, that the company is going to collapse.

(I suspect it will, eventually, because the market is dying and events like Countdown will probably hasten that collapse, but it won't be a direct cause-and-effect relationship and it won't happen overnight).

The sad thing is that some of the stuff DC is putting out is as good as any mainstream superhero stuff they've ever released. It's getting overshadowed by the Crossover That Never Ends, but some of it is as enjoyable as you could wish for.

Part of the reason, incidentally, that I want to semi-segregate the DCU stuff from the reviews of more 'important' comics that I do here is that I think a different critical standard needs to be applied to these comics. I will often ladle on the superlatives for what are, by objective standards, fairly mediocre comics when talking about superhero stuff, simply because that mediocre comic might well achieve exactly what it sets out to, and what it sets out to do happens to be to my taste. If I put the reviews together, someone reading my writing could come to the conclusion that I think Brave & Bold #5 a superior work to Maus, because Brave & Bold achieves its relatively limited aims with competence and a certain amount of style, while I think Maus' reach doesn't quite extend as far as its aim.

Speaking of Brave & Bold 5... I find it very difficult to review this comic, because it just... well... I'm a child of the late Bronze Age. The first time I ever hunted down any back issues, it was to find out what this Crisis thing that everyone was talking about from a couple of years earlier had been. I see George Perez drawing an Aparoesque Batman or Hal Jordan and my critical faculties get turned off and I become 13 again, saying "This is so cool!"

Just looking at Perez' pages (and I know the criticisms of his work as well as anyone - over-detailed, at times undynamic, unimaginative layouts, not enough distinction between foreground and background - and I can agree with many of them on an intellectual level) with those characters makes me think I'm looking at the Platonic ideal of 'superhero comic'.

Having said that, looking at this as dispassionately as I can, this is a genuinely good comic. Brave & Bold , in fact, has been the comic I'd hoped for from Countdown. Mark Waid is a writer who's very hit-and-miss for me, but this is definitely a hit - he's taken all the lessons of 52 and put them into his own crossover.

Because this is a genuine Cosmic World-Shattering Epic Spanning Galaxies And Aeons of the kind we all wanted from Countdown. Starting in issue 1 with a locked-room mystery (Green Lantern and Batman both find corpses somewhere it would be impossible for them to be... and it's the same corpse), Waid has brought in characters from every corner of the DC Universe - Supergirl, Destiny of the Endless, Lobo, Green Lantern, Batman, Blue Beetle, Adam Strange, the Legion of Superheroes - in a way that seems totally unforced, but has led from that simple mystery to Supergirl being on Rann while Batman is in the 31st century with no way home.
This is the kind of story that takes advantage of the shared universe to tell stories, rather than just to shake it up - the kind of story that is the reason people care about the DCU in the first place.

Waid is also getting the characterisation right - his Blue Beetle and Batman had exactly the relationship they did in Blue Beetle's own title - a rarity in these days of comic writers ignoring everyone's titles except their own.

This issue has faults the earlier ones don't - for a start the Batman here is the uber-competent one who can outsmart Brainiac 5 and outfight Karate Kid, which I know some people are sick of, and this issue is almost a DC's Most Republican Characters Convention, featuring as it does Adam Strange, Hal Jordan, Batman and Brainiac 5, all of whom are Very Competent And Very Crew-Cut, with no Blue Beetle or Lobo to leaven the mix - but it's still got everything you could want in a superhero comic. As an in-continuity superhero title, there's nothing out there to beat it.

Waid says that the good reviews are making this title sell less - 'fun' is apparently not something most readers want from superhero comics. If anything is a bigger indicator of everything that's wrong in the direct market, I've yet to hear it...

Waid's other title of last week, All-Flash 1, was of much lower quality than Brave & Bold, but of no less interest from a 'where DC is going' perspective. The first thing to note about it is how little story there is. Even though it's two pages longer than Brave & Bold an inordinate number of those are splash panels or pages with a very small number of panels. Where Perez packs a ton of information into every page, much of the artwork for this feels like that in Countdown, to which it bears a strong family resemblance.

The sheer number of different artists, though, along with the nature of the story, suggests that Wally's (and Waid's) return was planned out a lot less far in advance than the announcements would have us believe. The story itself mostly comes down to "Wally finds the individual Rogue most responsible for Bart's death, and now everything is back to how it was and let us never mention this again". Not really worth buying in itself - it's a flimsy story just designed to handwave everything about the total cockup of a reboot away - but it does leave me curious about where Waid's going to go from here.

And it was nice to see that, despite the horrific Silver-Agey poetic justice for the villain, Wally refuses to cross the line and kill. Geoff Johns, in the runup to Infinite Crisis, had him state explicitly that he was pro-capital punishment and would kill if it came to it, which I always thought was a rather nasty mischaracterisation (done so he'd be able to 'take sides' after the killing of Max Lord, I think). From the looks of it that, like most of the last year of Flash comics, has been put into the 'things of which we shall not speak' category, and I for one hope it stays there.

Action Comics I dealt with the other day, but just to reiterate - it's a fill-in that's significantly better than the regular team, and it's a tie-in that's significantly better than the series it ties in to. It's a good-but-not-great Superman story of a type we've seen several hundred of, but I like good Superman stories.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I usually enjoy Mark Waid's work, but All Flash #1 was so disappointing to me I couldn't even bring myself to review it.

Jeff Wetherington
The Comic Guide at Athena Guides