Comics Update 2018, Part 3 of 5: My Year in DC

Darkseid Eats!

DARKSEID EATS. From Mister Miracle #11; art by Mitch Gerads.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Comics collecting has been my primary geek interest since age 6, but I have a tough time writing about it with any regularity. Over the course of the next four entries…I’ll be sharing what I’m currently buying every Wednesday at my local comic shop — series and miniseries alike, budget permitting, broken down by publisher as of the very end of February 2019, including lists of 2018 works that are either done or dead to me.

Years after the New 52 soured my status as a full-time DC Comics fan, I’m still creeping my way back into their universe, inch by inch. I’m in no hurry, particularly with my aforementioned rules against team books and crossovers in effect. With the help of “Rebirth” and a few bright spots from the Vertigo and Young Animal imprints, DC got my attention a bit more this year than the past few years. We’re getting there.

Ongoing series and miniseries in progress:

Deathstroke – Written by Christopher Priest and therefore buy-on-sight, though some arcs could use flowcharts. Our antihero spent all of 2018 welcoming and bedeviling one guest star after another — first a short crossover with New Super-Man (which I was already buying, therefore making it the perfect crossover for me), followed by an overlong bout with Batman, which in turn was the opening act to a stay at Arkham Asylum involving virtual reality games with the other costumed inmates, Adam Strange’s Zeta-Beam, the wrong side of Two-Face, or possibly none of the above. I’m not sure if Priest simply wants to play with all of DC’s toys or if the editor has decreed the guest-starring shall continue nonstop until sales improve. Considering that wicked Slade Wilson about to undergo his second Teen Titans crossover soon, I’m leaning toward the latter.

Goddess Mode – Vertigo presents the first comics series written by Zoe Quinn, gamedev and anti-Helen-of-Troy of Gamergate, fittingly about a team of women fighting against future male white corporate oppression via super-powered avatars in an immersive virtual-reality war zone that in some respects matters more than reality itself. Abetted by frenetic anime-suffused art from Spider-Gwen co-creator Robbi Rodriguez, Quinn invests considerable time setting up the dimensions of her heroines and both worlds with chunky exposition that maybe could use some streamlining, but I’m not exactly complaining because one of my current favorite subgenres is comics that take more than three minutes to read. For a work by an ostensible newcomer, it’s a remarkably lucid and compelling read.

The Green Lantern – I picked up the first issue of Grant Morrison’s run because I couldn’t believe he was returning to monthly comics even though he’d previously rebutted that possibility. It was an okay read, naturally containing more imagination than any hundred thousand words I’ve ever laid down, but then I forgot to watch for subsequent issues on new-release lists ever after. I recently picked up #2-#4, as well as the new #5 this past Wednesday, and hope to catch up soon in time to remember to notice when #6 comes out. I’m taking it on faith that it’ll be worth catching up.

Shazam! – A rare instance of my local comic shop owner talking me into trying a title I was on the fence about. I read a few of the original, whimsical Otto Binder/CC Beck tales that were reprinted when I was a kid. That exposure to his classic Fawcett Comics era spoiled me for any of DC’s dissatisfying approximations ever since they acquired the rights. DC VP Geoff Johns is now taking him out for a spin, toning down the dourness a tad and tossing in some fantasy elements, which are good first steps. On the other hand, I have absolutely no idea why Billy Batson is surrounded by an entire gaggle of fellow orphans who have their own Shazam-variant alter-egos, and I refuse to learn more about them on Wikipedia. I’m also not wild about the game plan of delving into the wizard Shazam’s mysterious underground, expanding it into an entire mythos with competing realms and backstory and possibly some deeper origins that threaten to bury the super fun hero under ten tons of overexplanation. For now the art of Dale Eaglesham (Secret Six) and the intro of a daffy, Beck-ish new villain called King Kid are holding my attention, but this one is still on probation.

The Wild Storm – Warren Ellis and Jon Davis-Hunt continue their Wildstorm reboot with more dangerous rethinking, more Grand Guignol super-bleeding, more familiar names with takes that Jim Lee never could’ve imagined, and a slow-burn stealth march toward the return of the Authority. Why is no one hopping up and down in excitement about this? Or are they and I’m just not seeing it? The pitiful number of shelf copies on every Indy shop I’ve walked into tells me this book is far, far too overlooked.

Wonder Twins – The all-stars of TV’s Super-Friends are back! As part of the recent “Wonder Comics” initiative for fractionally younger readers, the shape-shifting alien siblings have been refitted for level PG, enrolled in high school, and been given after-school jobs at the Hall of Justice, which I have an extremely hard time believing exists in the post-New-52. Only one issue in, writer Mark Russell — one of the most subtle, subversive satirists working in mainstream comics today — quickly got things up and running and frequently funny, and threatening Deathstroke’s title of My Favorite DC Title of the Moment.

Series that were canceled or ended as the creators allegedly planned:

Border Town – Imagine, if you will, me warming up for this paragraph by first screaming into a pillow for fifteen minutes. It began beautifully, disgustingly, brilliantly as a deep dive into Mexican mythology and political allegories. A group of diverse kids living near the Texas/Mexico border found themselves on the front lines of an otherdimensional monster invasion, as if they didn’t already have issues with teen racist bullies, creepy authority figures, and incidentally hot-topic problems in their own individual lives. What began as a crown jewel of the Vertigo relaunch that shot straight to the top of my reading pile every month slammed hard into a hot-topic brick wall when its writer/co-creator was accused of disturbing sexual misconduct and became another trial-by-internet defendant facing the wrath of the ongoing “Me Too” movement. DC immediately canned the book four issues in, which might’ve qualified as attempted swift justice if its own colorist hadn’t publicly revealed that DC was aware of something amiss even before the series began. I think I’m supposed to join the herd in declaring all four issues retroactive persona non grata and pretend they never existed or rocked, but they’re sitting right here in the box staring back at me, these permanently damaged goods.

New Super-Man and the Justice League of China – I knew it wasn’t long for this world when The Powers That Be insisted on adding the JLC to the marquee in hopes of ringing a Pavlovian dinner bell for DC fans who shop only for brand names. Former bully Kenan Kong was shaping up to redeem himself as a work-in-progress taking the slow road to heroism through a vividly realized, pointedly amusing Chinese superhuman scene as guided by Gene Luen Yang, Viktor Bogdanovic, and other artists who pitched in on this valorous, witty attempt to do something different with the same old toys.

Jughead vs. Joker!

Jughead vs. nightmare visions of Cesar Romero, from Archie Meets Batman ’66 #4. Art by dan Parent, J. Bone, and Kelly Fitzpatrick.

Miniseries completed in 2018/winter 2019:

Archie Meets Batman ’66 – Officially this was an Archie Comics release rather than a DC product, but there’s enough Bat-content that we’re calling it honorarily DC. This may well be the last of DC’s merry Adam West/Burt Ward throwbacks for the foreseeable future, and what a hoot it was: two icons of the fabulously silly 1960s team up against the same handful of Bat-villains that always shows up for such crossovers, plus the unexpected addition of Joan Collins’ Siren, the perfect foil for a town where all the boys (except Jughead) go girl-crazy every ten minutes. The Batman ’66 miniseries were among the very rare DC projects my wife and I enjoyed together. They’ll be missed.

Harley and Ivy vs. Betty and Veronica – This one was actually a DC product, a bit less retro but a different sort of fun thanks to animation lord and Harley co-creator Paul Dini, along with artist Laura Braga, bringing more of that ol’ Batman: The Animated Series magic to Riverdale and paper in that order.

Mister Miracle – The award-winning team behind the hard-hitting The Sheriff of Babylon, the best Vertigo title of the past ten years, Tom King and Mitch Gerads reunite for an all-new, all-different take on Jack Kirby’s master escape artist. Husband and hero Scott Free faces new grave threats from Darkseid and Apokolips, internecine conflicts with his fellow New Gods, nasty haranguing from that big fat jerk Orion, and the most daunting challenge of all: a new baby. Our Hero and his better half Big Barda strain to stay on the same page as War Is Coming, the end is nigh, sacrifice may be necessary, reality keeps flickering around them, and everything gets off on the completely wrongest possible foot when, in a possible first for a Big Two comic, the title character attempts suicide in the first issue. Or DOES HE? Such is the unreality of one of the year’s most off-kilter and best-drawn books, though I understand it contains wealths of nuance for anyone who read the original Kirby works. If someone would let me borrow their copies, that’d be great.

Mister Miracle 8!

Scott and Jacob Free in a very special PSA about unsafe Batman products. From Mister Miracle #8; art by Mitch Gerads.

Mystik U – What if DC’s various mystical characters were teenagers who attended their own Hogwarts knockoff? Teen Zatanna leads a cast of misfits (many recognizable names to us oldsters) through a three-issue supernatural romp that should’ve sold like mad to millions of YA readers out there, if anyone in the company had bothered to market the thing. I presume this was buried on purpose because the VPs couldn’t figure out how to cram some gratuitous Batman into it. Props to Alisa Kwitney and Mike Norton for trying anyway.

Wildstorm: Michael Cray – In the old world of Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.s we knew him as Deathblow. For now in the rebooted world of The Wild Storm, Cray is a government-hired assassin tracking down his Earth’s corrupted alt-versions of beloved DC headliners (evil Aquaman! evil Wonder Woman! evil bald Constantine!) while coping with voices in his head. Some issues looked as though they were drawn in a week or less, but writer Bryan Hill (with background kibitzing from Warren Ellis) pulls off some heavy action-suspense that will presumably dovetail with events in the main series at some point.

Harley Quinn in Crisis!

Harley Quinn, America’s sweetheart from Heroes in Crisis #1. Art by Clay Mann and Tomeu Morey.

Titles I dropped, or tried once but failed to get hooked:

Doom Patrol – I was on board with the idea of Gerard Way taking the helm of one of his own favorite comics and seeing if he could approximate a Grant Morrison level of stylish, defiant incoherence. The old teammates, newcomer Space Case, and a refitted Danny the Ambulance made for a trippy comeback until months-long delays between issues destroyed their momentum and invoked my impatience.

Heroes in Crisis – I love writer Tom King’s standalone works (Sheriff of Babylon, Omega Men, The Vision) but I roll my eyes whenever a Major Event kicks off with an important character death (let alone several at once, the case here), none of which will ultimately matter because in superhero comics death is now the least meaningful plot point possible. The underlying premise, that all superheroes need somewhere therapeutic to decompress and recover from their emotional traumas, was a potent one for the Peanut Gallery heroes but tough to suspend disbelief for the Big Three. (Batman in therapy? Um, no.) When two issues flew by with zero noticeable developments and, even worse, I heard an ancillary crossover tie-in was in the works, I fled.

Justice League – Christopher Priest dropped in to write an arc in which Our Heroes were framed for crimes they didn’t commit, were taken to task for oversights they hadn’t noticed, and spent some time knocking around a leftover Deathstroke subplot. It was Priest, so I had to be there. It was fine for what it was, but when Priest’s work here was done, so was my reading. To recap: I rarely stick with team books anymore because they’re too prone to crossovers, and I hate that they keep settling for fight montage pinups in lieu of actual choreographed fight scenes.

New Challengers – I avoided the big, bombastic “Metal” crossover because crossover, but I was mildly curious about the spate of books launched in its wake. The sight of new Andy Kubert art seemed as good an excuse as any to pick one up. Within ten minutes I forgot what I’d read. One issue seemed a sufficient trial.

Nightwing – When a writer like Warren Ellis recommends a mainstream superhero comic, I’m inclined to wonder why. I loved writer Ben Percy ‘s initial idea of positioning Dick Grayson as an old–fashioned hero of bygone analog times forced to reckon with a cutting-edge jacked-in incorporeal ‘Net-based villain. Then DC editorial junked the idea midstream, decided Dick should regress for the sake of a Major Event, and drove Percy away just in time for me to have no reason to buy the 50th issue.

The Terrifics – Plastic Man! Mister Terrific! Metamorpho! Phantom Girl from the Legion of Super-Heroes! From the roster alone I assumed Jeff Lemire and Ivan Reis had assembled themselves DC’s wackiest, most light-hearted super-team since the Legion of Substitute Heroes, even though nothing about Lemire’s resume supported this baseless hope, to say nothing of its contraindicative status as another “Metal” spinoff. It wasn’t a post-modern grimdark bloodbath by any means; rather, it was just four random but cool characters from my childhood slapped together into a run-of-the-mill team because, I dunno, someone thought DC needed more teams?

To be continued!

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