Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: DC UNIVERSE PRESENTS!
The Concept and Characters: Deadman is the Dr. Strange of DC Comics. Obviously there are mystical characters who are closer in powers and abilities to Marvel’s former sorcerer supreme, but Dr. Strange has the reputation as a character beloved by creative teams but spurned by readers. He’s the guy everyone wants to work on, but no one seems to buy. Deadman is just like that. And while he hasn’t proven able to generate enough interest to spawn his own ongoing series, Deadman is the lead character in the first arc of DC Universe Presents.
You’ll note that the title is DC UNIVERSE Presents, as opposed to “DC Comics Presents.” That one word swap is emblematic of this whole DC relaunch. It’s about branding the line of characters and concepts, not about tying everything down to a paper-and-staples delivery method. Plus, the series title alludes to DC’s own massively multiplayer online game with the same name. Synergy, that.
So this is DC’s anthology series, but instead of anthologizing multiple stories in each issue, it will feature a rotating cast of protagonists and possibly different creative teams with each arc. We don’t have much information about the overall direction of this series or if the launch team will stick around for future story arcs. What it looks like is a variation on Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight or JLA Classified, where multi-issue arcs give new creative teams a chance to tell stories every few months. The only difference is that this series has the entire cast of the DCU to draw upon, though it seems set up to spotlight second-and-third-tier characters that wouldn’t otherwise draw an audience.
Deadman’s a good a place to start as any, with his recent role in the 24-issue Brightest Day series returning him to a somewhat prominent place in the DCU. And he’s a character with an interesting premise: a murdered circus performer who spent his early career tracking down the man who shot him. A man with a hook, like the always-one-step-away killer from David Janssen’s Fugitive. Plus, Deadman, aka Boston Brand, doesn’t actually have a corporeal form of his own. He’s a floating spirit who can take possession of others.
You can see why that aspect of his character makes him a better supporting character than a lead hero.
Historically, Deadman has been the title character in very few comics, but when he does appear in solo stories, he’s been paired with some of the best artists in the industry, from his early days with Carmine Infantino and Neal Adams to his later miniseries by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kelley Jones.
Writer Paul Jenkins promises to show everyone why Deadman deserves a shot in a lead role in this opening story arc, and claims that, if his Deadman story had a tagline, it would be this: “Some journeys take a lifetime. Yours is simply a journey that takes more than one.”
The Creative Team: The striking cover is provided by Ryan Sook, a superior artist who has proven himself unable to meet the deadlines of a monthly series, but we can still hope that he’ll get to draw one of these DC Universe stories eventually, right?
Beneath the covers, at least for the five-issue Deadman arc, we get veteran writer Paul Jenkins and the veteran, but somehow ever-improving, Bernard Chang. Chang’s work in the past few years has turned him from a solid superhero artist to a distinctive stylist who shows a mastery of musclebound superheroics and exciting page layouts. He’s pared down his style to a crisp, elegant approach to visual narrative, and, particularly when he inks himself, he’s just damn good at drawing comics that are clear and vibrant.
Jenkins is a journeyman writer who once ago edited the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series and then moved on to shepherd the books in the long-defunct (but extremely high quality) Tundra line from the 1990s. He’s written a hundred comics in the past decade or so, from Civil War tie-ins to the Spectacular Spider-Man to the origin of Wolverine, but he hasn’t written anything interesting since maybe 1999’s The Inhumans or 2000’s The Sentry, and both of those were collaborations with Jae Lee, one of the most visually arresting comic book artists of the last twenty years.
Recommendation: Skip it. Chang’s a good enough artist to make this worth a flip-through, but Jenkins hasn’t proven that he has anything particularly interesting to say as a comic book writer, at least not in recent years. He’s been in the Marvel trenches for a long time, though, and the DC playground may inspire him to do something a bit more invigorating than what we’ve seen. Still, you’re better off waiting for a really knock-out creative team to come in for an arc before you bother buying this comic. A third-tier character from a less-than-first-tier creative team just doesn’t warrant a whole lot of attention.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.