Sunday, August 04, 2013


Trinity War

I'm not the first person, nor probably the twentieth, to make the point, but it bears repeating: DC in 2013 is cribbing pretty hard from the Marvel 1998 playbook. They've succeeded in leveling out almost all tonal variance across the line, ensuring the consistency of a recognizable house style across almost every book they publish. It's difficult for individual voices to gain traction, and there is every indication that this situation, rather than being accidental, proceeds in precisely the manner the company intends. Many talented creators have either left voluntarily or been effectively blackballed, with the majority of titles given to journeyman hacks or amenable veterans. You don't hear a lot of creators working on the Nu52 talking about certain books being "passion projects" or lifelong dreams come true - individual creator motivations appear almost entirely absent from the finished product.

Whereas Marvel seems very interested in building the careers of individual creators by matching writers and artists with projects best suited to their interests (and Marvel is consistently adamant that creators are never forced to work on titles or characters to whom they have a disinclination), there is a wide gap at DC between two types of creators: a (very small) handful of marquee writers and artists who get to shape the direction of the entire line, and everyone else.

Look back at DC in the late 90s: many good creators were given a lot of freedom to create distinctive and memorable series under the general auspices of the mainstream superhero line. The very best creators were pacified with creator-participation deals from sub-imprints like Vertigo or (later) Wildstorm - the real value of which, for the company, was never the books themselves (although they certainly liked having a number of bookstore ready perennial sellers like Preacher, Transmetropolitan, and 100 Bullets), but rather the good will gained by giving A-list creators the kind of selective carte blanche that meant they would also be motivated to stick around and craft more IP for Batman and the Justice League. Eventually the Powers That Be noticed the discrepancy between what the company received from creators in exchange for their loyalty and the benefits the creators reaped from their participation agreements, and Vertigo contracts were changed accordingly. Multiple sources have reported on Warner Brothers' unhappiness at learning that they didn't own the media rights to some of what they had believed to be their most lucrative properties. There is every reason to believe that this situation proved at least partial impetus for many of the corporation's recent, risible, and eminently logical decisions.

Even though Marvel has always sold more comics, in the late 90s DC sold smarter comics. WIth a few noble exceptions, Marvel in the late 90s was in piss-poor shape - years of ruthless downsizing and poor corporate governance leading up to bankruptcy had rendered the company afraid of its own shadow, locked into a series of conservative editorial choices that led to years of stagnation and diminishing returns. Now the situation is precisely reversed. It's not simply a matter of Marvel consistently making better comics than DC, although few would seriously argue that the median quality of the DC line comes anywhere close to Marvel's at present. Marvel is still Marvel, and their more creator-centric approach (or, to put it more precisely, an approach that offers the appearance of more opportunity for individual creative voices to influence editorial direction) is certainly capable of producing as many different types of stinkers as DC's suffocating top-down storytelling-by-fiat approach.

Look again for just a moment at Age of Ultron, as terrible an event book as you can possibly imagine, undercut by its obeisance to following its (very powerful) creators' every stylistic tic to its logical conclusion regardless of consequences. The best books in the Marvel line are so because the the company has allowed good writers and artists to craft books with distinctive flavors and tones apart from any considerations of a singular "house style." You'd be hard pressed to find any real stylistic commonality between (to pick three of the company's most lauded current titles) Jason Aaron's Thor, Mark Waid's Daredevil, or Kieron Gillen's Young Avengers, other than the fact that all three of these books present strong individual authorial voices. Age of Ultron did, too, and its abject creative failure also represents a kind of testament to the company's willingness to give creators as much rope is necessary to ensure they can hang themselves with alacrity.

Compared to Age of Ultron, or even what we've seen of the buildup to Jonathan Hickman's Infinity, there's nothing in Trinity War to mark it as being the product of any kind of specific vision or individual creative mandate. It is very much a crossover of the "old school." Or rather, let me correct myself again: the singular creative vision at the heart of the story is that of Geoff Johns, who - despite a fair number of personal thematic and stylistic hobbyhorses (of which more than a few are evident here) - remains firmly committed to perpetuating his modern interpretation of the sturdy, well-designed superhero storytelling with which he grew up. That is to say, a studied blankness of affect, a marked professionalism that indicates that the creator knows precisely how to tell the kind of story he has set out to tell. I am certain that Johns has committed the intricacies of every JLA / JSA crossover since 1963 to memory, and has probably left detailed footnotes on his well-thumbed collection of the Avengers / Defenders War to boot. So while some of the details may have changed, specifically the level of violence, the pervasive atmosphere of suspicion and distrust, and the constant recourse to characters comparing penis size in public, the overall structure of the story will be familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the conventions of superhero team-up event comics.

But just because it's undoubtedly better-written than Age of Ultron doesn't mean it's any good at all. The problem with Trinity War, as with so much of the Nu52, is quite simply that the current incarnations of these characters and situations simply are not interesting. Few DC characters emerged from the line-wide reboot in any way improved by the ordeal. Superman, despite a handful of good stories in his solo books, remains naggingly indeterminate in a way that seems most troubling in light of the fact that Superman's personality should be the baseline around which everything else at DC must inevitably cohere. Wonder Woman appears incompetent and pugnacious in equal measure. The Flash, restored more-or-less intact to his pre-1966 status quo, remains as resolutely boring as ever. Green Lantern and Batman remain intact from their pre-Flashpoint incarnations, primarily because those two characters were and remain the company's flagship franchises.

DC was never really supposed to have the kind of shared universe Marvel built in the mid-60s. This is somewhat ironic: although Marvel gets the credit for being first to the post, pretty much from the moment "The Flash of Two Worlds" was published in 1961 the company set forth on a multi-decade project to ensure every property from every corner of the publishing line fit snugly into a (completely improvised) master plan of multiple earths and intricate timelines. This meant not only the mainstream superhero line in the 1960s (all of which, like the contemporary Marvel, were somewhat of a piece tonally and therefore had fairly little trouble fitting together), but every book and property winding back to 1938, as well as those properties acquired by National / DC in the course of their long and litigious lifespan.

This isn't a new story by any means, but its vital to understanding precisely how the Nu52 makes sense in DC history. Rather than a refutation of three decades of metastasizing consistency, Crisis on Infinite Earths was the apotheosis of the impulses first codified by Gardner Fox and Julius Schwartz in 1961. (It might be hard to see in hindsight, after fifty years of intense attention to continuity, but the original stories were most definitely not intended to represent paradigm shifts for superhero comics. Fox and Schwartz cut their teeth in the pulps and the "Golden Age" of sci-fi, an era where alternate universe stories were a common trope, and the original Flash and Justice League stories were attempts to apply similar motifs to comics while also appealing to the nostalgia of a handful of older readers, no more and no less.) The real problem here, one of the core problems of the Nu52, is one of tone. This tendency was already apparent after Crisis, and an argument could be made that the comprehensive leveling of tone was one of the first concrete indications that Crisis had succeeded in its stated aims. The mania to ensure that every property fit together into a single cohesive universe meant that it was that much harder for creators to maintain individual and distinctive milieus for every character in their own books. The default became simply generic, which explains the disconcertingly bloodless tone of many titles in the years immediately following Crisis.

Early stumbles notwithstanding, once they became more comfortable with the post-Crisis status quo this became one of DC's great strengths in the nineties. They figured out how to keep a consistent universe that nonetheless left a lot of room for idiosyncratic titles. Consider the fact that for a few years in the mid-to-late-nineties the mainstream DC line was able to keep as diverse a range of titles as Starman, The Power of Shazam, Hitman, Impulse, Lobo, and The Spectre on the shelves, all radically different, all ostensibly sharing the same universe, but none of them suffering appreciably from that fact. I very fondly remember a crossover between Starman and The Power of Shazam (1998's "Lightning and Stars") that worked to the benefit of both books by highlighting the tonal differences between the two characters' environments as a feature, an important theme of the story, and not a bug to be "fixed" and leveled. If you must have shared universes, then surely this is the model companies should aspire to emulate? The wide variety of books in this sample more closely resembles the contemporary Marvel line than DC.

For any number of reasons, this isn't the way DC looks now. There is a house style. There is a sustained focus on inter-title consistency at the expense of individual creator initiative. Readers have been trained by both companies over the last decade to reward titles that "matter" at the expense of those which do not: excellent and idiosyncratic titles like China MiƩville's Dial H have no relevancy to the line's larger initiatives, and languish as a result. (Not coincidentally, Dial H was one of the last projects spearheaded by Karen Berger before her exit. It's important to recognize just how important Vertigo was towards establishing a publishing model not just for the "mature-readers" comics, but for the mainstream comics line as well. DC was very creator-friendly in the nineties, and Berger was one of the persons most responsible for establishing this climate.)

So now we have an environment where Shazam and John Constantine can share panels in a completely straight-forward and unironic fashion. The tone of Shazam's solo adventures is now vaguely mordant and grisly (in a sanitized way), which is also not-so-coincidentally the tone of Constantine's book. Both characters can interact on the same footing. But what is most unique about both characters has also been lost: Shazam (which is the name we're stuck with) is far too dark and unpleasant to reflect the character's appealing virtue, while the Nu52 Constantine is a watered-down, juvenile mess without any of the ambiguity, intelligence, or charm of the original. In trying to create a consistent, comfortable shared universe context for both characters, they have sanded away everything important.

The story of Trinity of Sin is wonky in the way only a DC crossover story can be. Whereas Marvel is fortunate enough to have a psychedelic cosmology assembled from a foundation laid by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Steve Ditko's strangest ideas, DC has always muddled along with a fictional universe built on explicitly Judeo-Christian foundations, with a heaping spoonful of Greek myths and leftover concepts from the aforementioned "Golden Age" of pulpy sci-fi (i.e., the parallels between the Guardians of the Universe and Doc Smith's Lensmen). Kirby's contributions to DC's mythology have had sustained influence, but the Fourth World sits uneasily next to the Spectre and Green Lantern mythoi. This may be simply a matter of personal taste, but as a connoisseur of the cosmic I do not believe that, with a few notable exceptions, DC does cosmic anywhere near as well as Marvel.

(The exception that proves the rule is, of course, the aforementioned Crisis itself, which I still adore.)

The original sin for DC is the creation of the Spectre. Yes, the same Spectre co-created by Jerry Siegel. The problem with the Spectre - and this is a problem that has been explicitly acknowledged by multiple creators over the years - is that once you acknowledge that you have a creature who is the incarnate wrath of God sitting side-by-side with Superman, your stories will either warp accordingly or cease to make sense on a profound level. This is fairly obvious as far back as the original Justice Society stories in All Star Comics, where you see the Spectre sitting across the table from the Atom, who in case you forget, was originally just a short guy who worked out a lot and wore a leotard. (Invariably the early Justice Society adventures, which were always split up with each hero having a separate adventure within the larger story, had the Atom going undercover at a gym or college campus, in order to beat up some thugs or Fifth Columnists - you know, while the Spectre was busy flying across space and time and fighting super wizards and demons.) The problem never really went away. As rich as Christian mythology may be, it takes the wind out of the sails of superhero comics when you know Batman has been to Heaven and seen his parents at the pearly gates, and Superman has been to Hell and heard the screams of billions of tormented sinners. (Both of these events have happened.)

And yet this is how the DC universe works. There is a God in Heaven, his angels oversee creation, and the devil is real - and yet it also somehow matters that a bunch of blue dwarves set up a massive law enforcement bureaucracy at the center of the universe, and that the Earth is home to multiple pantheons of immortal (small-g) gods who are not somehow all presumptuous demons committing blasphemy against the one true God, and that there is another group of gods in a pocket dimension who believe in an all-powerful Source and keep watch over the end of the universe, and that there's a kindly wizard bestowing the wisdom of a Biblical King of Israel alongside the powers of various pagan deities on random street urchins. It just doesn't seem to fit together very smoothly, and the problem is that making it try to fit together erodes the appeal of each individual concept. On his own, the Spectre is a cool character, but in the context of a shared superhero universe he is simply one giant storytelling problem after another. The question of God has always skirted around the edges of DC, as in the recurring motif of the grasping hand at the beginning of time that Krona sees in his forbidden portal. (Just please forget Infinite Crisis.) But ultimately all these explanations and prevarications point to the fact that the DC universe, such that it is, is an unmistakably theological narrative. You can't escape the fact that God is a concrete presence in these books. Marvel is much more ambiguous, preferring to couch its universal abstractions in Darwinian and Nietzschean terms.

So it turns out that the mysterious woman who was inserted into background shots of every Nu52 first issue is actually Pandora - the real, mythical Pandora, of Greek myth, who opened Pandora's Box and allowed evil to enter the world. She's wandered the Earth for thousands of years, cursed as punishment for her transgressions. She is one of the story's titular "trinity of sin" - the other two being the Phantom Stranger and the Question. The former has been completely revamped, given a confirmed origin as Judas Iscariot, and given a secret identity, a human family, and a talking dog sidekick; the latter has been revamped into a mysterious amnesiac ancient evildoer forced to live forever, walking the earth in search of the question (get it?) that will reveal his identity. It should not need to be said that both of these revamps commit unforgivable violence against the characters' original intent. Since the first cryptic announcement of the Trinity War, fans assumed that the trinity in question would be the familiar trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. I must give them some points for defying expectations, but in this instance the expectations would certainly have made more sense than what we got.

Oddly enough for a crossover involving two of the best-selling comic books in the country, the story actually picks up on a few plotlines from third-string titles like Team 7 (already canceled) and Phantom Stranger (not yet canceled but sells like shit, despite the fact that - notwithstanding the awful creative choices made in rebooting the character, J.M. DeMatteis makes the book at least somewhat readable). They've been very methodical in terms of laying the groundwork for this story. The plot begins when Pandora discovers that if a truly good soul reopens Pandora's Box, then the evils that were once trapped in the box will be reimprisoned once again. Like most sane people she assumes Superman to be genuinely good, but of course since this is the Nu52 he's not, so instead of opening the box and solving all evil it instead fucks with his head enough that he murders Doctor Light by blowing his head off with heat vision. Which is exactly what I want to see in a Superman story: Superman failing the moral paragon test and being tricked into killing people. The murder happens during the Justice League's big fight with the Justice League of America (controlled by the unappealing, amoral Nu52 Amanda Waller) in Kahndaq, after intercepting Shazam who has come to the country to spread Black Adam's ashes after killing him last month. After the fight in which Superman kills Dr. Light, the two teams come together in order to try to solve the problem with Superman. The teams split down the middle regarding the plan of action while Wonder Woman seeks out the Justice League Dark for their help, at which point Constantine tries to trick Wonder Woman into becoming his slave. (Which is just a fantastic thing to do, really.) But meanwhile the real villain is a character who (apparently) survived the destruction of the Flashpoint universe and, for some reason, is trying to rule the world by capturing Pandora. Or something along those lines, admittedly the story is still only halfway done. Phew.

It's densely plotted and well structured. All the marquee characters have something important to do and all the tertiary characters get nice moments. It begins with a big action setpiece, dots the middle with lots of little quests and distractions, and will almost certainly end with a big climactic slobberknocker after which Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again. Johns is very good at writing giant crossover stories: it's a massive balancing act that requires an enviable attention to detail - the kind of attention to a very specific kind of form and function that Bendis has never once shown an inclination to learn or apply. In many ways this is an exemplary crossover. The only problem is that the story itself is terrible.

There is something irreducibly square in the premise: everybody wants Pandora's Box, that's the MacGuffin that puts the plot into motion. Pandora's Box is something every kid knows from elementary school, but it's just not that compelling a hook - anymore than having the Seven Deadly Sins who were imprisoned by the Wizard Shazam on the Rock of Eternity come to life and try to kill Pandora for attempting to reimprison them. The idea of implying that Pandora's Box was designed by the Judeo-Christian God and not actually Zeus seems like Johns' attempt to pull a "surprise revelation" out of his back pocket regarding one of the formative myths of Western Civilization, which has a bit of a different ring to it than merely proclaiming that everything you ever knew about the Green Lantern Corps was wrong. It's just not that interesting, frankly. I may be just one lone voice in the wilderness, but I've never found DC's approach to the classical myths to be all that compelling, and whenever they try to pull some kind of syncretic bullshit with the capital-G God it never really flies like they want it to fly. (Why does no one ever raise a stink about the fact that these kinds of stories are incredibly blasphemous in a way that is probably deeply offensive to practicing Christians?) These things worked pretty well in The Sandman, which was always a DC Universe title regardless of what anyone else says, and Moore's Swamp Thing, obviously, but those were both far better titles written by far smarter men than Johns. This is just banal, like someone put a bunch of mythical and religious motifs in a paper bag and pulled a few out at random to base a story around. It's boring.

There's a part of me that feels bad for Johns. He's pretty high up in the DC food chain. He was one of the architects of the Nu52, and has been the single biggest commercial draw at DC for many years, not exclusive of Jim Lee. But he's a traditionalist. Despite his tendency to dismember these characters in gruesome ways, he's a fan first and foremost. And even though he created this new status quo, I have to believe there's a part of him, deep down, trapped in a little box and crying throughout the endless long dark night of his soul, that recognizes that these characters are just pale imitations of the real thing. This Justice League, this Superman, this Wonder Woman, this John Constantine - they are all off, every single one of them. The word came down from on high that the whole apparatus had to be rebuilt from stem to stern practically overnight, so he did the best he could to give the corporation what they said they wanted: streamlined raw materials, grist for the mill of the efficient IP farm Warner Brothers wants their comic book division to resemble. The problem is that these characters are ciphers, reflections of ghosts, with little to recommend them to readers who have access to the originals.

With two years' hindsight, it is more and more apparent that the true shift signified by the advent of the Nu52 was that individual characters no longer matter (to say nothing of creators). The most important brand is not Superman or Batman or Green Lantern and certainly not Shazam or John Constantine, but DC Comics - oops, sorry, DC Entertainment. The most important thing for them is that they have a cohesive universe that can be presented as a legible whole. The great triumphs of superhero comics have traditionally come as a result of the genre's strange, disreputable, tatterdemalion profligacy. But it's becoming harder and harder for companies to justify extending that kind of creative freedom in regards to characters who might each and every one of them (in the minds of Warner Brothers executives) end up as their next billion-dollar franchise. The cruel irony is that without being able to offer that kind of freedom and trust to individual creators, the stories become sterile and vapid, and the IP is degraded. Marvel for the time being have managed to figure out how to walk the tightrope between control and liberty, enough so that a not-insignificant percentage of their line is actually very good, and many more books are pleasantly readable. There just aren't that many DC books I'd stop to pick up for free off the street. Trinity of Sin is the best kind of crossover you could hope to create from this atmosphere: readable, if you can put aside the fact that every single stated premise is ineffably repulsive.

If you want a vision of superhero comics, imagine an overly-rendered red boot stamping on the reader's disinterested face - forever.


Phantom Moose said...

Pretty solid post - but allow me to disagree ever-so-slightly on the Spectre. The cosmic hierarchy of things presented within that comic - at least, certainly within the Ostrander/Mandrake run that actually established much of the core background and mythos of the character - was a lot more complicated, nuanced, and frightening than the straightforward "Judeo-Christian god" which has taken hold in years since. The takeaway you get from reading that 90s run is that the Spectre sees "God" and "Heaven" as Christian in nature because Jim Corrigan was raised by a Baptist preacher; Hindu Spectre hosts see Vishnu and Brahma instead, and await reincarnation. (At one point the Spectre actually travels to Apokalips and New Genesis, and they're fairly dismissive about his claimed ties to divinity, basically telling him, "whatevs, dude, it's all about whatever's behind this glowing wall.")

Moreover, the particular nature of the Spectre in that run implies something fairly disturbing - or at the least, unconventional - about the nature of God: the Spectre is not merely a servant of God, or an angel of some kind, but in fact a splinter of God itself (and it's implied that there are other splinters of God out there in the universe, although I don't know that we explicitly meet them in the series, other than Michael). The implication is that God is less the traditional Christian deity, and more the broken, fractured Gnostic creator, split into countless contradictory fragments or aspects. This more unsettling, less-ordered portrayal of the deity is keeping with the general tone of that run (and the classic Fleischer/Aparo run, and the early Golden Age comics) which frequently leaned far more in the direction of horror than superhero comics, and which portrayed God and heaven in general as coldly distant entities at best, and as malevolent cosmic torturers at worst.

You only really start to see the Spectre getting pushed into a more clearly Christian framework after the Ostrander run - and particularly, with the return of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern and the rise of Geoff Johns as DC's go-to "make everything fit together, even if you have to pound it into slop" guy. I've always thought that Johns is best understood as a kind of overly mechanical literalist - the kind of superfan who eagerly draws up charts of Tolkien characters by D&D alignment but is blithely uninterested in what those characters are actually like or what their actions mean. You can absolutely see that in his revamp of the Green Lantern books, which show such a poverty of imagination in their plotting-by-spreadsheet that their success should be held up as a condemnation of contemporary superhero comic book readers. That his voice has become the house style for DC is a sign of the company's increasing creative bankruptcy - but a logical consequence of the trend towards homogenization of tone that you identify.

The Spectre is a great character, but he is also very clearly an extremely messy character, and while he can exist in the same fictional world as Batman and Superman, he can only do so as long as you aren't constantly calling attention to the fact that it's weird as fuck that this is the case. For that matter, the same can be said for dozens of characters in what we quaintly call the DC "universe" - hell, even Superman and Batman shouldn't spend too much time together outside of the Justice League, or you start wondering why Clark doesn't just do his pal Bruce a solid and spend an afternoon rounding up all of Gotham's criminals and dropping them off at Arkham. To insist, as DC apparently now do, that because these characters technically inhabit the same loosely-constructed fictional reality that their stories must all feel the same, is to succumb to the kind of obsessive hyperfocus on continuity literalism that the Tommy Westphall hypothesis was mocking.

Christian LeBlanc said...

Have you been reading the Wonder Woman series, or just her appearances in other characters' stories? I thought Warren Ellis has been doing some amazing work on the book; I almost feel as if editorial just hasn't noticed it, so they're leaving it alone. Could be I'm just being charmed by Cliff Chiang's artwork, but I at least get the impression that both creators are honestly enjoying themselves.

timoneil5000 said...

It's a beautiful book but my investment in it basically disappeared the moment they revealed that Diana was the bastard daughter of Zeus - which is a mistake on such a fundamental level I have a hard time even conceptualizing how badly they misunderstand the character and her milieu. Also, the hipster Ryan Gosling version of Orion grates.

timoneil5000 said...

I'll be honest I've never read the Ostrander SPECTRE all the way through, only bits and pieces. I should remedy that. My impression is that it's another of those serious, like STARMAN, that succeeded a bit too well by offering such a good interpretation of the character as to effectively obviate future revamps. Since then, no one has had the foggiest idea what to do with the guy other than to either make him Hal Jordan or a villain.

timoneil5000 said...

Oh yeah, also just occurred to me - one reason I was disinclined to track down the whole run was that one of the few issues I did read was the one where Batman fights the Spectre for the life of the Joker, which is hands-down one of the most insultingly stupid comics I've ever read.

Phantom Moose said...

Oh my god, that one is just awful, and actually a key example of why you should never put the Spectre in the same room with certain characters or concepts. But the run as a whole is very good, and a key example of a time when DC let its creators experiment pretty freely.

Cleofis said...

Wait, wasn't Superman killing Doctor Light a ruse by the main villain, revealed with the typically Johnsian dialogue of "Now they will think Superman actually KILLED Doctor Light," or somesuch?

Phantom Moose said...

Cliff Chiang's art is beautiful, of course, and I love his character designs. But Azzarello's writing has been doing nothing for me. Even beyond the retconning of Diana's origins, the book is less concerned with Wonder Woman herself than with the various characters around her and opposed to her, who are almost entirely unsympathetic, obnoxious poseurs. Now, there's nothing wrong in principle with filling a book with a largely unsympathetic cast, but most of the characters in the post-reboot Wonder Woman are unsympathetic and boring, spending most of their time lounging around snottily insulting each other with really lame puns.

So there are two big problems with the way Azzarello is writing this book: the first is, he hasn't given me a reason to care about these characters. Why should I care whether it's Apollo or Zeus or the baby or that nameless dude in Antarctica who's in charge of Olympus, when being in charge of Olympus basically seems to mean being a dick to a bunch of other people who are also being dicks? Why should I care what happens to any of these characters, when most of them are such assholes? In theory, I should care what happens to Wonder Woman, but that leads to the second big problem: this book is not about Wonder Woman. It's a book with a lot of Wonder Woman in it, but she's pretty peripheral to most of what's going on in it. She has to protect some other person's baby. She has to look for some distant relatives. She has to stomp around with a version of Jack Kirby's Fourth World characters who betray no attempt on Azzarello's part to have ever read a Jack Kirby comic before. But in the meantime, Wonder Woman is a cipher in her own book, getting bumped from one plot point to the next.

Christian LeBlanc said...

As someone who apparently can't even get the writer correct, I automatically concede each one of your points (which are quite well-stated, regardless).

Solo500 said...

Alas, all well said.

Phantom Moose said...

Ah, and I see from Twitter you've already hit the "ehh, that genocide didn't count" issue. Problematic, Mr. Ostrander!

Michael Hoskin said...

It's interesting to note Ostrander's Spectre contains a similar "corruption of Superman by ancient artifact of evil" plot point, yet in Ostrander's tale, Superman WINS.

Ty Myrick said...

Every bit of that post was excellent, but the point that really jumped out at me was your disregard for DC's ability to tell cosmic stories. I completely agree, despite the irony that one of their two current tentpole characters is a space cop. The Legion of Super-Heroes, in a single title, provides a more detailed universe than the whole of the rest of DC. Having thought quite a lot about changes I would make to DC since the advent of the Nu52, this is one sore spot that I do not see being corrected any time soon.

Scratchie said...

Don't forget that Tony Akin's art is gawdawful.

merchantfan said...

I think they can have good space stories, but the problem is they often don't coordinate the aliens of one book with the others particularly Green Lantern with the others such as Teen Titans and Superman.

Dorian Gray said...

"Look again for just a moment at Age of Ultron, as terrible an event book as you can possibly imagine, undercut by its obeisance to following its (very powerful) creators' every stylistic tic to its logical conclusion regardless of consequences."

Well, actually, according to Bryan Hitch's SCORCHING interview with Newsarama, Hitch was allowed no input on the direction of the book, wasn't allowed to finish it even though he offered to cut into his own projects to do so, and was generally not treated as "powerful" or allowed any "stylistic" freedom beyond being forced to draw scenes out of bare bones dialogue without direction. So, no, "its creators" did not undercut it - Bendis was the only one allowed any creative freedom.

Dorian Gray said...

L.E.G.I.O.N. vol. 2 was the last time this was done well, and they've decided to not even bother printing the last volume of the collection, it sold so poorly.

M.Z. said...

To be honest, I always got a kick out of the uncomfortable semi-Christianity of DC when filtered through the Vertigo line - don't forget, the Gaiman and Co. Sandman started out with one foot in the Phantom Stranger/Martian Manhunter/Brute and Glob weirdo DC superhero melange. Lucifer's entertaining in part because of how the book tries to keep all the balls in the air across many real religions and a few made up ones while keeping to a Judeo-Christian story that follows Sandman's syncretism. A lot of the biggest and/or best Vertigo stuff came out of that tension.

As for Johns over Bendis when it comes to crossovers, ehhhhhhh. Bendis is terrible, you're right. He never provides much of a reason for anyone to be anywhere, or for the Big Dumb Last Fight to happen here rather than there; I don't know how Age of Ultron is going because I'm not going to touch that one. But Johns simply offers characters hurtling from place to place, transforming, exploding, reliving gore-filled versions of previous stories and shouting loudly about their shock and the vague, sudden reasons that they have to now hurtle from place A to place B. I liked Sinestro War when I first read it as a seemingly much younger person, but I sat down and mapped it out when I went back for another pass and the sequence of events doesn't make any sense at all. It's just "shock" after "shock" that shocks the character without shocking the reader, who has to command a working knowledge of Infinite Crisis, Green Lantern: Rebirth, and the rest of Johns' reinventions to follow why X character just leaped out of Y character's entrails.

M.Z. said...

Serious question, no sarcasm: why, exactly?

I don't mean Orion, I'm not thrilled with the creators dropping Kirby's characterization almost entirely, but I've read the New Gods and Kirby's Jimmy Olsen Superman's Pal so I get that part.

But I've never really found any Wonder Woman comic interesting except this one and some of the books from the Golden Age, so I don't entirely understand why having Diana be one of Zeus's progeny is a mistake on a fundamental level. I don't have the knowledge to understand that. Because Wonder Woman should come from a (both literal and figurative) place that is 100% female? Is that why? There's a real irony to the new origin given the facts about the character's creator and his motivations. It seems to turn over the "woman from a land of women, as invented by a man" rock and look at what's underneath, so to speak.

I mean, I'm enjoying this series, it's wedging Wonder Woman into something that at least apes the motifs of Greek myth, and I wasn't aware that I was also, apparently, badly misunderstanding certain musts for the character and the setting that had been neglected or changed.

Could you explain?

timoneil5000 said...

I've read that interview. By "creators," yes, I meant Bendis, it should have been "creator's."

Jesse Baker said...

While turning Question into a male amnesiac version of Madam Veil seeking redemption is an interesting retool idea (far better than the BS that was Greg Rucka killing Vic off so he could get the box office poison Renee Montoya a new book and trick people into buying it by making them think it was Vic Sage getting a new book or what Morrison has planned for him in Multiversity, outright turning him into Rorschach) it sucks that he's stuck in this crossover.

That said, the biggest fucking sin of Trinity Wars that they killed JLI in order to replace it with "Random Roster Generator :League". Given that JLI/JLA had a huge rivalry going prior to the New 52 PLUS it's a showdown people actually fucking have a LEGIT interest in seeing, the cruel way JLI was disbaned and shattered and replaced wit John's crappy replacement JLA series effectively killed any interest I might have had to buy into this storyline. Superman and JLA vs Batman and JLI vs Wonder Woman and JLD would have been WORTH doing such a hackney and blatant designed by committee super-heroe versus super-hero storyline, since you would have Batman and JLI going up against the evil asshole JLA team (who are devoid of any likeability in the New 52) and you could have gotten a TON of mileage in the build-up towards Batman being involved in the JLI and LIKING the JLI better than JLA, because the people in JLA are actually freaking nice, whereas with JLA, Batman is surrounded by assholes who are being manipulated by a piece of shit (Steve Trevors) who is dead set on limiting the JLA to it's founding roster because he's a self-absorbed starfucker who manipulates everyone so that he can have the fame of being the "8th JLA member" and the only new person allowed in the cool kids club/continue to stalk his ex WW, like the creepy little turd Steve Trevor is in the Nu52

Jesse Baker said...

Hitch is trying to cover his ass. He was late as hell as usual with the story and quite frankly, is probably just pissy Bendis rightfully threw him under the bus as far as SOMEONE having the balls to tell the world what a lazy shit Hitch is and why he should be blacklisted from working in comics, due to his laziness

Mario Di Giacomo said...

It may be educational to look up who was editor-in-chief of Marvel in the late 90's. And who is the editor-in-chief of DC now.

Mike Tannehill said...

What an awesome slam to the Didio led DC Universe. The key problem is that they have forgotten the lesson of "Kingdom Come" and allowed the Image comics vision to overrun the DCU. It is all style over substance since Image comics man-child creators have the scope of vision of a horny 13 year old. They have no concept of what a virtuous hero is. Its really quite pathetic.

Paul Houston said...

I agree with the inanity of the story behind Trinity War. It's just plain stupid. Supposedly DC's main audience is 40 somethings, yet if 40 somethings are titillated by this sort of thing, then what it says about the intelligence and maturity of their core audience is sad. I think you should send this post to DC themselves, to Geoff Johns and Bob Harras themselves, because it is the voice of reason.

Dale Bagwell said...

Love the article Tim! Not to mention the comments that follow, especially a new and interesting look into Ostrander's Spectre run, which has always been highly praised.

I hate the reboot and always have. Not just for the reasons you listed, but just for the sheer unnecessary death of of the pre-reboot continuity. It was unnecessary, as if sales was a big reason, I don't see it, and especially neither do comic store owners almost two years after the fact.

If DC's cool was to create homogenized, bland charactures of or beloved heroes, then mission accomplished. Thanks to such greed and one-sightedness, from not wanting to pay past creators/or their estates, we get this.

Now I'll admit to buying the Trinity War "event". I did this solely because I'm a sucker for the CSA, but yeah, Johns really is a one-trick pony, and this "event" that never ends much like most comic events, pretty much proves that.

Jhoh Cable said...

This may or may not agree with commenters and/or this article, but if I so much as see Batman existing in the same universe as Superman, it's over for me. I can't buy it, I can't believe it, I can't read it. Crossovers and persistent universes kill superhero comics for me entirely. It never should happen, especially not after some vaunted reboot. The reboot should've been the opportunity to get rid of Batman and Green Lantern existing in the same universe.

Another thing that's probably been said by a bunch of other people, but every time I read a comic where Captain America shows up in the same universe as the X Men I think, why is there crime at all? If it's because there's so many supervillains, then why are there buildings at all? Civilization would be obliterated by all this fighting. And then the story is destroyed for me as well.

And it doesn't help when guys in purple tights stand around debating the finer points of civil rights with a robot. OH THIS IS VERY SERIOUS MR PURPLE TIGHTS shadap

James Hayes-Barber said...

I'm just going to point out that this posters comments on Renee Montoya are so misinformed and ignorant that I'll just give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's trolling, thus rather than take the bait, I'll use this post to warn others not to .

Good Day.

Jesse Baker said...

I'm dead freaking serious douchebag.

Can't handle my comments or the truth can you about why Renee Montoya was full of fail as Question and how it was a cynical ploy to make people give a fuck about her after Gotham Central sold for crap to the point that even TPB sales could not keep it alive and proved that no one wanted to read her adventures

secondwhiteline said...

Jesse Baker has a long, long history of batshit insanity on numerous message boards, blogs, and review sites. He's a frequent poster at Scott Keith's site these days. He's quite serious, and not only completely insane, but incredibly stupid as well.

J.R. Farley said...

Bravo. I hadn't really been able to articulate the generic sameness I sensed from DC's line.

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