Tuesday, January 10, 2012


I started reading comics before Crisis On Infinite Earths, and I remembers guys complaining afterward that there was nothing so confusing about the multiverse that it needed to be streamlined into oblivion. Those guys were full of crap. I hated the multiple Earths concept as a kid, and decided that the X-Men soap opera was more penetrable than DC playing with which characters on what Earth.

Earth-One was where most heroes were, but the Justice Society of America and the doppelgangers of many mainstream heroes like Superman were on Earth-Two, where World War II had only ended twenty or so years earlier. However, some characters like Black Canary were from Earth-Two and had no Earth-One counterpart but decided to live on Earth-One later on (and get retroactively replaced by their adult daughter because that wasn't complicated enough.) Then there was the Marvel Family on Earth-S who sometimes got involved in World War II stuff but usually were in the present and sometimes on Earth-One. The Freedom Fighters were from Earth-X, where the Nazis won World War II, so the bums moved to 1970s Earth-One. They were all Quality Comics characters like Plastic Man, except Plas was on Earth-One and Earth-Two, but not Earth-X (I don't think.) There were dozens of others, including Earths for various alternate futures. There was even Earth-Prime, which was supposed to be our real world, except it still had a few super-heroes and people spoke like Eliot S! Maggin dialogue.

About the only Earth I halfway liked was Earth-Three, which was like that Star Trek episode where the crew of the Enterprise were all evil. Earth-Three couldn't even get that right though, because instead of giving Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman pointy goatees, their analogues were inexact with different names, powers and costumes. About the only multiverse comic I enjoyed was Ambush Bug, since it spent a lot of time pointing out how insanely moronic all that stuff was.

Like a lot of people, I jumped on the Post-Crisis, one-Earth bandwagon wholeheartedly. It was a once in a lifetime chance to read a Superman comic from the very beginning of his journey. However, the new creators were so busy throwing out all those hoary old trappings, I felt they didn't leave enough to make the characters special. I couldn't get excited about Superman breaking a sweat while having street-level brawls with Bloodsport, Rampage, the Host, Sleeze or Skyhook. Rogue could fly around punching c-listers, too.

The Flash is one of my favorite examples of this. Barry Allen was a forensic scientist with the police force who had a colorful array of personal rogues. Loads of places you can go with that. Wally West was an unemployed dude who picked up cash with his powers and after making friends with the old Flash's foes fought villains like That Really Fat Guy and Whatsisname With The %-Symbol. You can play with that for a while, but outside straight comedy, there's only so much steam there. Aside from true innovators like Giffen & DeMatteis in Justice League International, a lot of the new DC barely sizzled passed the initial appeal of the stakes.

I came back a few years later, and what sucked me in this time was the sense of history and continuity in the universe. The Crimson Avenger was a Shadow knock-off, and the first masked DC hero. From there the JSA members started springing up, and the ranks of superherodom ballooned during World War II. McCarthy ran off the heroes going into the '50s in a parallel to the Wertham crusade, so when J'Onn J'Onzz arrived on Earth in 1955, he had to operate in secret. Eventually, Superman sparked a new super-heroic age, and was joined by the children of the JSA in Infinity Inc. There were heroes before the 20th Century, and there would be more in the 30th, all weaving a grand tapestry. I loved that DC Universe, and if anything, I wanted to see more history laid down to fill the gaps. The newly acquired T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents could have been the super-team of the '60s, and by integrating Wildstorm, operations like Team One and Stormwatch could have guarded the '70s & '80s. Instead of having an excess of corny heroes involved in present day adventures, dated concepts like the Hawk and the Dove could be fixed in time, making them the heroes of an era.

Due to my interest in finding a place for all DC history, I've always struggled to find a way to reconcile the shiny utopian Mars of the Silver Age with the primitives in pyramids revealed Post-Crisis. DC's answer had been that all those early stories were a fantasy in J'Onn J'Onzz's mind, but I found it both disrespectful and wasteful to ignore over thirty years of published adventures. When the multiverse returned following 2005's Infinite Crisis, it occurred to me that one possibility was that all those Silver Age Martian Manhunter adventures could have simply occurred on "Mars-Two." I mean, if there was a second Earth in a parallel universe, why not a divergent copy of Earth's neighbor world? Maybe reveal the Mars-Two Martian Manhunter had been killed off in the Crisis. That way, on Mars-One, every Martian is dead besides J'Onn J'Onzz, while on Mars-Two, they're all alive except J'onn J'onzz. When Coneheadhunter was killed off in Final Crisis, it would have been neat to see him replaced by a Darwyn Cooke-style Alien Atlas from another Earth, right? Now that would have been cosmically delicious!

Given the distasteful treatment of the multiverse concept by travesties like Countdown, I was surprised DC retained it going into the DCnÜ. Some characters, like the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, never really recovered from massively reworked origins for the gestalt Post-Crisis Earth. Giving that back to Huntress on a restored Earth-Two would elevate the character, but I'm not sure that's where DC is going. I doubt they're in a hurry to saddle their sexy new continuity with that kind of history, and wouldn't be surprised if Alan Scott and Jay Garrick were fit young men born well after the days of disco, much less the Great Depression. It seems likely that they'll just be more variations on Green Lantern and the Flash in universes crowded with them. To me, that means the DCnÜ is something like the worst of both worlds-- the confusing Pre-Crisis Multiverse, and a bland Image style line-up marked by an illusory history dating back to only a few years worth of untold tales. Every one of their characters are available to creators in the now, but with hardly any of them having any cultural relevancy, in our day or times past.

The Martian Manhunter benefited massively from the Post-Crisis Earth. He went from an off-brand Superman to the first major hero of the 1950s, and a keeper of the flame active between the eras of the Justice Society and the Justice League. Perhaps he will still have that personal longevity and significance in the DCnÜ, but so much is in flux that it is difficult to see that far ahead or behind. I think it's essential to the character's resonance, but DC might feel he needs to have shown up 4½ years ago (so as not to step on Wonder Woman's debut, which somehow now follows Green Lantern and Flash's. Ugh.)

Recent issues of Stormwatch insinuate that J'Onn J'Onzz's being the sole survivor of Mars is a lie, reversing the narrative of his Post-1988 continuity. One of my pet theories for years has been that all those Bronze Age Martians are still on Mars II somewhere, hidden away, perhaps from J'Onn J'Onzz himself. Another possibility would be that the Mars of Earth-1.2 is a dead world, but J'Onn J'Onzz came there from a living Mars-Two. This could reestablish J'Onzz's bridging of two eras of heroes and two worlds. Unlikely, but imagine the possibilities of playing with all that lore without hewing to the enforced "reality" of the DCnÜ Justice League. In my fantasy, Bel Juz is plotting, the Marshal is scowling, B'rett is stealing, and R'es Eda is just waiting for his moment of betrayal in the computer colored current continuity I'd like to see re-embrace its heritage, while forging something new...


LissBirds said...

You're definitely right about the DCnU being both confusing and bland. I have no idea what's going on...but what's worse is that I don't feel the need to put in the effort to figure out what's going on. Comics shouldn't make me think this hard.

I wish DC could revisit some Bronze Age Martian foes...I always thought there was a lot of untapped potential there.

I wish there was a way to cohesively take all the best parts of the Silver Age, Bronze Age, and JLI years and make them all work somehow. I like what you're saying with having a Mars-Two in existence. I wouldn't mind seeing two Martian Manhunters operating on different Earths. There are a lot of things I do like about Silver Age J'onn J'onzz, like the lack of telepathy for one, so why not have more than one version to make everyone happy? Darwyn Cooke's version was what actually introduced me to the Martian Manhunter, and I felt he got a lot of things right about J'onn, so I would love to see a Darwyn-esque J'onn in existence.

What I really would like is to see some period pieces. If characters aren't relevant now, why not set them in the time period in which they were? i.e. have an ongoing JLI book set in the 80's instead of trying to make the JLI concept work for the 21st century. Superman in the 1940's. Hawk and Dove during the Vietnam era, etc. A 1950's noirish/Twilight Zone-ish book with J'onn J'onzz and the JSA. I'm probably biased because of American Secrets and Darwyn Cooke, but J'onn J'onzz and 50's Cold War paranoia are forever linked in my mind.

Anj said...

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the DCnU is the partial reboot effect. So Guy Gardner and J'Onn meet for the 'first time' ... with Guy's history intact and J'onn's rewritten.

I do think that some creative energy has come from this reboot. But it hasn't been the dizzying resurgence I was hoping for. Much like the pre-relaunch, there are books I enjoy and plenty I find lacking.

I have stayed away from Stormwatch because few have raved. And a change in writers this early didn't scream stability.

Diabolu Frank said...

Anj, I had serious mixed feelings about the relaunch, ranging from wanting to buy all of them as I did with "Zero Month" (not a serious consideration financially,) or none at all (which I couldn't quite bring myself to do.) Of the nine series I've tried, I haven't really liked any of them, and plan to only carry two through their first year. There were oodles of series I wanted to try, but trade waiting is often an iffy prospect for me, as I usually lose interest by the time they're solicited. I'll be happy to see Stormwatch get a new writer, but I think of guys like you who jumped on to books for creators that are gone within six issues, and feel sympathetic resentment. As my interest in DC as a universe has died off, and my enjoyment of their editorial/talent has been slight under Didio, I think that in the end the relaunch will make me even less likely to try DC product. My emotional investment got wiped out, as happened with Marvel under Tom DeFalco. I just don't care much now, and less with time.

By the way-- is Guy's history intact? I heard tell his relationship with Tora was now just a passing thing years dead.

Liss, part of what made the Crisis interesting was all the tired old junk getting reintroduced as revitalized new junk. Some were handled very poorly (see: Superman line,) but I really enjoyed others (turning Dick Grayson clone Jason Todd into a street punk, the Barbara Minerva Cheetah, Etta Candy in the military, Hawkworld, etc.) I'm waiting to see more of that in the New 52, but so far they've mostly taken without giving in the name of "mystery." We don't know much of anything for sure, and the impression is that DC doesn't either. So far, only the books starting from a point of reboot, especially the Superman line, seem to have any strong sense of direction. I need to see new versions of familiar characters like the Vile Menagerie just to feel like the New 52 accomplished anything besides a brief sales bump. Otherwise, it's just bad business as usual in the post-Kahn/Levitz years.

Like you, I loooove period comics, but I'm pretty sure the DCnU is about forgetting as much history as possible. Basically, I think they want to drop most everyone super into 2006 and forget that there was any such heroics in the 20th century.