Friday, December 15, 2006

DC: Denominator, Common

There's a lot of negativity going around this season. Seems like the One Year Later buzz has died away, and people are feeling let down. Grant's Batman hasn't been his most brilliant work yet. Justice League of America is going to spend the next three issues sitting around a table looking at real estate guides trying to pick out a new headquarters. 52 got boring. Richard Donner's Superman...well, you know. You might be thinking "gee, Tom, we know you didn't like the Donner Superman, and you've made your feelings about Martian Manhunter and Trials of Shazam pretty clear. You're probably all full of snark on the rest of the comics out there, too."

Not on your life. I don't know if I could honestly say that my pull list is better than it's been in years, but damn, it's good. I guess I'm reading a different 52 from everyone else, because I read through it every week and immediately anticipate the next. It's been a long time since there was a comic that I had a hard time waiting a week for, let alone a month, but 52 has me hook, line, and sinker. I want to see the big space battle. I want to know who Supernova isHow many special people change? (clearly not Mon-El, I like Ray Palmer for it, though the Eradicator makes a lot of sense too. So does the new Starman, especially given Steven Wacker's statement that Supernova's identity would be revealed in an issue #1. And of course, there are any number of Booster Golds). I want to know what the hell's going on with Ralph. I want to see what happens with Intergang and the Question and Renee. I want to know what's up on Oolong Island. I want to see more of the Great Ten. I want to see the fall of Black Adam, and the further fall of Lex Luthor. Yeah, there have been bad issues, and it dragged a little for a few weeks, but on the whole it's juggled this vast net of storylines fairly well. And it's clear that we're heading downhill at this point. We're over the hump, and now things are really starting to happen and come together.

What else am I buying? Well, Gail Simone's comics, for one (two, three). I only started buying All-New Atom a few weeks ago, and I only started reading it yesterday, but it's fantastic. It's nice to see the DCU showing some scientists who are scientists first, not superheroes or plot devices or madmen. Birds of Prey did what I wanted to see the JLA do following the Crisis, and went to a kind of BoP Unlimited (a fantastic idea), and much as I'm going to miss Black Canary, the transition has been pretty seamless, and somehow I doubt that she'll be completely absent from the book. I love Secret Six, and I hope there's more in store for the team; I want to keep reading it, and I really want it to be successful enough for a Gail-penned "Adventures of Dr. Psycho" spin-off.

We've already been over my deep affection for Will Pfeifer, and the OYL gap has only improved Catwoman.

Batman's first arc kind of petered out (and maybe it's just because the DCU has a surplus of sudden children these days), and Grant really kind of phoned in that last issue, but the issues preceding it were pretty cool. Plus, I want to see where this plot is going, because there's no way it's over. And in a month or three when he finally comes back, we'll have a nice Joker story to look forward to.

Does this man look like a midnight toker to you?Meanwhile, despite a hiccup or two, Detective Comics has rocked hard. Aside from the cheesecake of Dr. Isley and the awful fill-in issue, this represents just about everything I could want from a Batman comic. And why not? Paul Dini was one of the minds behind the cartoon that gave me everything I could want from Batman. He's written better Joker stories, and even a better Joker holiday story, but this is a better Joker than Judd Winick's, at least (damning with faint praise, I know). I'm not super-big on the way he was drawn, but it's tough to capture my preferred Joker in a non-Animated-style comic. This is, I think, the closest any comic Joker has come to sounding like Mark Hamill in my brain though, and that's a good thing.

And then there's Kurt Busiek's Superman, which people keep complaining about for some reason. I honestly don't understand why; it's fast-paced, and the "Days of Future Past" story, while cliché, is done well and plays with the conventions in an interesting way. Plus, Arion! Friggin' Arion! I don't see how people can love what Grant Morrison does in All-Star Superman and not love what Kurt Busiek's doing in Superman. Kurt's playing more in the 70s-80s style storytelling sandbox, but there's still a very classic, old school feel to the book.

Shadowpact continues to be solid, fun superhero storytelling with fantastic characterization. Supergirl waffles still, but now it's between "mediocre" and "kinda good" as opposed to "crap" and "really crap." Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes doesn't seem to suffer from that shortcoming. Manhunter is back, and if you're not buying it, then you are on shaky ground to be complaining about the quality of DC's output. Wonder Woman, when it comes out, is decent at the very least, and even a mediocre Geoff Johns/Richard Donner Superman comic is still better than all the Chuck Austen, Stephen Seagle, Joe Casey, Brian Azzarello, and Mark Verheiden crap that came out over the last few years. And Justice Society of America appears to be everything that its higher-profile daughter book isn't. Even Checkmate, that punching bag of the reviewers everywhere, is pretty good.

Maybe people expected too much from OYL; DC hyped it as a radical change to everything everywhere, and a few months later, it seems not so much. But it improved the Superman books (well, okay, we made lateral motion from Rucka's book, which was awesome), it improved JLA (say what you will, but I'd rather read Meltzer's bridge club league than anything by Austen or Claremont), it improved JSA (which was floundering by the end), it improved Green Lantern (in some ways, for a little while), it improved Nightwing (...eventually), it improved Batman and Detective comics (greatly), it improved Catwoman, Manhunter, and Supergirl. Legion, Birds of Prey, Firestorm, and Blue Beetle haven't suffered any, and I can't vouch for Aquaman before the gap, but I read it now. I keep hearing great things about Uncle Sam & The Freedom Fighters, Robin (despite the Cassandra Cain nastiness), and Mystery in Space. It gave us Shadowpact and All-Star Atom, Secret Six, and 52 of course. We lost a lot of quality on the Flash (even from that last story arc, which is saying something), and we lost quite a bit on Wonder Woman. Teen Titans lost momentum before the Crisis, but has mostly wandered aimlessly since.

So what does it all add up to? Mediocrity, more than likely, especially if one considers the bottom-of-the-barrel crap like Trials of Shazam and Martian Manhunter. And OMAC. And what did we have before? Mediocrity. I think, considering everything, we've really balanced out to average, and what more can you really expect? OYL didn't give us a grand new era of unprecedented quality. Some books, sure. I'm more excited about Superman than I have been in years. And I haven't bought multiple Batman books regularly since Bruce Wayne: Murderer. The quality has shifted from some books to others; Nightwing has received a reprieve, while Flash has received a death sentence, but if you expected DC to experience a sudden renaissance of quality without firing Bruce Jones and Judd Winick, well, maybe you were being just a tad naïve.

I don't think DC's any worse off now than it was a year ago. If anything, thanks to the addition of 52 and Shadowpact and the like, it's improved a little. Don't mistake the post-event blues for some real drop in quality; so the changes didn't live up to the hype, but that's the way it goes. I've been reading comics for most of my reading life, and the changes never live up to the hype. I mean, if nothing else, with OYL we got real, honest-to-goodness, lasting substantive status quo changes out of this event; Batman's no longer a brooding jerk, Supergirl has some personality, the Atom has a good comic, and Helena Kyle's not going back in the bottle anytime soon. That's more than you can say for almost any other crossover. Everything else just tends back toward the middle...and is that really so bad?

I've got three bloggiversary posts and several monomyth-related things in the queue for the weekend, so keep an eye out. And stop having bloggiversaries in December! Gosh, don't you people realize how hard those are to write?


SallyP said...

Thank you Tom. Yeah, some issues are better than others...that's the way that it goes. And anything, ANYTHING is better at DC right now, than the horror that is Civil War.

Greg said...

You're wrong about Detective, though. It started very well and has gotten worse and worse. This last issue was lousy. LOUSY!

Tom Foss said...

This from a man who didn't know why the fans like Paul Dini. I'll agree that this Joker was a little more random than I like to see him, but considering what Joker was like the last time he popped up in a Batman comic (excluding his brief appearance in Morrison's Batman issue), where he didn't really seem to be crazy at all (just desperately trying to be funny, and failing) this was a step up. It's not Dini's best Joker work, and certainly not his best work overall, but aside from the Poison Ivy issue (which had some good plot under the crappy art) his run has been quite good. And I have the distinct feeling that it's building toward something more.

Greg said...

I don't read that anime-inspired manga Batman crap that Dini once wrote - I read "mature" superhero books, damn it!

I do wonder, though, how many people are enjoying this run on Detective based on what Dini has done previously. We all do this (I'm as guilty as the next guy), and I think if you go in without any pre-judgments about how good Dini is, this is not that great. It's not horrible, certainly, just not that great.

Tom Foss said...

I think the bulk of Dini's goodwill is from his work on the actual Batman cartoon (not sure if he had much to do with the comics based on it or not). And I agree, this isn't breaking any new ground with Batman, it's not DKR or anything. But it's solid, old-school, done-in-one, classic comics storytelling, and it's a breath of fresh air. After so many years of "what terrible event will be plaguing Batman this year, in all six titles?" it's nice to have something of a reprieve.

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna have to say that I think Dini's Detective really is great; it seems like each issue gets better (with the exception of the fill-in, of course), although my favorite may have been the Penguin one, especially because of the compromising position Batman finds himself in at the end of that issue.

Like Tom says, what does it for me most is the form of the book. Single-issue stories are great because they're so rare, and it's nice to see Batman do some detectiving in Detective Comics. Besides that, the art is generally solid despite the fact that it's often a new guy each issue (I liked the Poison Ivy issue, but then I like anything that could possibly be connected to Swamp Thing), and the storytelling is top-notch. I think Greg's right that we're transferring our love of Dini from the animated series, but I don't know if there's anything wrong with that. For instance, would people read or praise "Lost Girls" if Alan Moore's name wasn't on it? I would think no.

But this thread reminds me of a question I was asked to field by a friend and customer, which I couldn't. What, do you guys think, is the definitive Batman story, in comic form? I can think of a half-dozen animated episodes, but comics? I really don't know. I wouldn't say DKR, partly because I now have this bias against anything Frank Miller does that isn't Sin City (and this comes from All-Star Batman). If pressed, I think I would have to answer the Swamp Thing issue "Garden of Earthly Delights," which I think is #55 or #56... whichever one it is in which Swamp Thing takes Gotham hostage. The end exchange between Swamp Thing and Batman in that always makes me smile. "You won. You got your wife back. But if you ever do this to my city again... I'll kill you." "Yes... I do believe... that you might."

RedheadFangirl said...

Thanks Tom for making me look at the DC universe as a whole and not just the pieces and parts I read. I look forward to 52 every week. I even got a little choked up at Nightwings appearance recently (knowing that he was on the chopping block for Infinite).
Keep up the good bloggin in 07!