A crowded stroll down memory lane
As I’ve mentioned before, when I started reading comic books in the early 1980s I was mainly a Marvel fan. I read a few DC books like Warlord and Jonah Hex, but nothing that was closely connected to their superhero continuity. I didn’t really start paying attention to the DC Universe until after Crisis on Infinite Earths cleaned up DC’s hopelessly bogged down continuity and paved the way for creators like John Byrne, Frank Miller and George Perez to revamp the likes of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and make them more accessible to new readers.
I became an instant convert and embraced the DC Universe with open arms. Byrne’s Superman and Perez’s Wonder Woman both did a great job of reintroducing the characters and streamlining their continuity into reasonable backstories that were textured without being overwhelming. Mike Grell’s take on Green Arrow was refreshingly naturalistic, using the character’s lack of supernatural powers to focus on urban drama rather than fantasy heroics. Even Keith Giffen, JM DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire’s Justice League took an inherently absurd idea, that of a team of superheroes, and managed to play it for laughs without it seeming out of place.
I never really bothered going back to see if anything interesting had been done before Crisis. For the most part it didn’t seem like I had missed much, with one possible exception: it seemed like Marv Wolfman and George Perez had been doing some interesting things with the Teen Titans, but in an age before convenient trade paperback collections, it always seemed like a bit too much work to catch up.
All of which brings us in a roundabout way to DC Universe Legacies, a series which attempts to cast a new eye on the DC Universe by observing the various eras of its history through the eyes of a retired Metropolis policeman who saw it all, but mainly as a bystander. DC tried something similar in 1986 with History of the DC Universe, but that was really a heavily illustrated prose book rather than a proper comic, and it lacked the accessible, human point of view provided by Legacies’ narrator.
Each two- issue story examines a different era of DC’s history and uses a different artist whose style complements the issue’s time period. Scott Kolins provides a two page framing sequence in each issue, tying the stories to the modern day. Issues 1 and 2, covering the Golden Age, are illustrated by Andy and Joe Kubert. Issues 3 and 4, covering the Silver Age, is illustrated by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, a mainstay illustrator for DC at that time, and inked by Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons. And this month in issue five the Crisis era begins, and who else but George Perez could illustrate it?
In many ways, Perez’s artwork encapsulates what was both good and bad about DC Comics in the 1980s. His work is lush with painstaking detail, and strikes a delicate balance between realism and expressiveness that most comics illustrators never master. His crowd scenes (which he seems to love to draw) are amazing, very well composed ands filled to bursting with dozens and dozens of characters…
…and maybe that’s the problem. I mean, Perez’s artwork is beautiful to look at, but…who ARE all those characters? I’m sure there are plenty of diehard fans who can name all the characters in any given crowd scene (I can usually name most of them), and it’s a treat to see all those obscure characters in the background when you know who they are. But at the same time, the pages sometimes seem to strain under the weight of all those characters inhabiting the same world, and that’s the very thing that, more often than not, prevents DC’s creators from telling accessible stories, and the thing that Crisis on Infinite Earths was supposed to alleviate.
It’s not just that there are too many characters in the DC Universe, it’s that they won’t let us forget that there are too many characters. And maybe they try a little too hard to fit all those characters on the same page.
— Jefferson Powers
Categories: Blog, Reviews Tags: DC Universe Legacies, DC comics, George Perez, Jefferson Powers
I find J. Michael Straczynski to be a very frustrating writer. If his work was merely bad or uninteresting it would be easy to dismiss him, but unfortunately he is a good writer who frequently comes up with fascinating ideas for the comics he writes. The central premise of his Supreme Power series from 2004, that no one could wield the power of a Superman, Wonder Woman or even Batman without being hopelessly insane, had been touched on before, but never with quite the intensity or attention to realistic historical detail. The problem with Supreme Power, and with most of the series that Straczynski writes, was that he never really finished it, he just let it fizzle out.
Even more disappointing than Supreme Power was the Thor relaunch in 2007. It had a wonderful premise that followed on perfectly from the destruction of Asgard in the previous Thor series, with Thor seeking his fellow Asgardians who had been reincarnated in the forms of mortals and scattered across the world, and establishing a new Asgard in, of all places, Oklahoma. It was a great set up for a series, and the new Asgard’s small town Oklahoma neighbors provided some much needed comedy relief for the traditionally humorless series. But Straczynski seemed to get bored with the whole thing pretty quickly, and he rushed through the search for the Asgardians, then fell back on the same old tired “what’s devious old Loki up to now” plots that have plagued the book for years.
Don’t even get me started on The Twelve, a proposed 12 issue miniseries about Marvel’s forgotten 1950s characters, which never made it past issue 8.
So it was with great irritation that I read that Straczynski would be taking over writing on Superman, one of my favorite ongoing superhero books. I decided that I would have none of it, I wouldn’t set myself up for disappointment again. He was starting with issue 701, so I would end my collection with issue 700, a nice round number. Unfortunately for my plan, Straczynski’s story actually started at the end of issue 700, and in spite of myself I was intrigued enough to want to read on. I read issue 701 with every intention of hating it…
But I have to admit, it was one of the more enjoyable Superman comics I’ve read in quite some time.
The story starts with Superman deciding that he spends too much time up in the sky, that he’s lost touch with the regular people that he’s dedicated his life to protecting. For the most part I agree. The “New Krypton” storyline that has consumed the Superman books for the past two years has been epic and ambitious, but it’s also been a bit too much about fighting and conflict between various super beings, which is all too prevalent in most modern superhero comics. I like Superman best when the stories are about him helping people, whether it’s saving them from burning buildings or getting their cats out of trees, and that seems to be the thing Straczynski’s storyline is going to focus on, as Superman decides to forego flying and walk from one end of the country to the other.
The pacing is nice and leisurely, spending time on little incidents of Superman connecting with ordinary life and ordinary people. No other costumed characters appear in the story at all, and other than a very brief appearance by Lois Lane, none of Superman’s regular cast of supporting characters appear either. It’s just scene after scene of Superman using his powers to help people, and it’s very well written. The dialogue is some of the most natural I’ve seen in a Superman book in years, and this is where Straczynski’s vast experience as a film and television writer are on display. The writing is humorous without being resorting to comic relief, and emotional without being sentimental.
Superman says he’s going to walk the length of the country. Given Straczynski’s recent track record, I’m betting he’ll either give up by the time he gets to St. Louis or we’ll jump ahead to his arrival in Alaska. But if he doesn’t, if Straczynski takes his time to explore this idea before jumping to one of the many other great ideas I’m sure he already has for the character, it could be a journey worth sticking around for. I guess we’ll see.
— Jefferson Powers
Categories: Reviews Tags: DC comics, Jefferson Powers, j. michael straczynski, superman
Action Comics, starring…Lex Luthor?
After several years of closely connected storylines, DC’s various Superman titles are now going in different directions, and perhaps the most dramatic change is that Action Comics, the title that Superman debuted in back in 1938, will now be headlined by none other than Lex Luthor.
When I first heard about it I was intrigued by the idea. Under the right writer Luthor is a fascinating character, and Paul Cornell, a veteran of British television (including the critically acclaimed Doctor Who episodes Human Nature and The Family of Blood) should bring a fresh perspective, and Cornell’s characterization of Luthor is definitely a highlight of the book. While he occasionally lapses into the tired ruthless corporate CEO cliché that has plagued the character since the 1980s, this Luthor has a cocky sparkle to him, and Cornell’s sharp writing makes me believe two important things: that Luthor is A: a genius and B: completely insane.
The story itself is serviceable, picking up where Luthor’s involvement in the Blackest Night storyline left off. His exposure to the orange power ring has left him even more greedy for power than he was before, and so he embarks on a quest to find a way to create his own power ring. He is assisted by the usual corporate toadies, but also with what may end up being one of the more interesting characters in the series: a robot duplicate of Lois Lane, programmed to challenge Luthor, to give him, in his own words, “a viewpoint that’s not entirely about need.”
Of course Luthor follows this explanation of the robot Lois’ purpose with the following statement, which really sums up the tone of the writing: “That will be especially useful when I’m becoming a god in space.” The plot really isn’t all that important, it’s just a vehicle for Luthor’s character.
Paul Cornell seems to have a firm handle on that character, and so far he has avoided the pitfalls that usually befall villain-led books, largely by avoiding having Superman or any other heroes appear in the story at all. This is Lex Luthor’s book, and the story is told squarely from his point of view. In his mind at least, he is the hero.
— Jefferson Powers
Categories: Blog, Reviews Tags: DC comics, Jefferson Powers, action comics, lex luthor, superman