Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe

Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe Addendum: Saying Hello to the New Six

Yesterday, I wrote a light lamentation on the six DC Universe titles that will reach their end with issue #8, and I mentioned that six new ones would take their place, in the 52 rotation.

Now it’s time to take a look at what’s coming in the six new series, to reflect on what we know about them and to play the speculation game: which of these new series are worth checking out right away, which ones are worth waiting for, and which ones are completely skippable?

The most prominent of the new six is the long-awaited return of….

Batman Incorporated

The Concept: The Batman “brand is franchised globally in preparation for a major international threat,” says the press release. Really, it’s a direct continuation of Grant Morrison’s Batman run which has brought the caped crusader to the edges of sanity, catapulted him back in time, and returned him to the present where he has assembled an international Bat-army, a global team of operatives to take the battle to the evil-doers, rather than wait for crimes to occur.

Because of delays on the artistic side, and then the line-wide reboot in September, this series was put on hold, paused before the story had been completed, with a Batman Leviathan one-shot hitting the stands right before the end of last year.

But, from all indications, this is just Morrison picking up where he left off, with his son Damian at his side as Robin and Damian’s mother, Talia al Ghul, recently revealed to be the mastermind behind the international terrorist threat.

The Creative Team: Grant Morrison’s Action Comics relaunch has been disappointing so far, but his multi-year Batman run has been one of the highlights from DC ever since it first began. It’s such a highly-regarded series that it somehow gained amnesty in the line-wide reboot, where everything else was wiped clean, and only Batman and Green Lantern kept their previous continuity basically intact (and one of those series has been written by the Chief Creative Officer of the company, while the other is from the keyboard of Grant Morrison).

The scheduled artist is Chris Burnham who brings his meticulous pencil work to a series that’s full of hidden mysteries and small moments that turn out to have great importance later. He can sometimes push his character work toward the hammy, but as he showed on his work on the previous incarnation of this series last year, particularly in the spotlight issue on the Native American Man-of-Bats, he can craft a gritty, oddball superhero world as well as the best comic book artists working today. With the lead time he’s gotten on this series – assuming he was able to continue churning out pages after the project was paused last year – he might even be able to draw every issue that comes out, and that would give the series the consistency it lacked last time it appeared as a monthly.

Recommendation: Buy it! Morrison and Burnham have proved themselves individually, and they proved themselves together last time they collaborated on issues of a comic with the very same title as this one. Morrison’s entire Batman run is worth digging back into, but even if you were starting with the relaunch of Batman Incorporated, you would likely find it one of the best monthly comics on the shelves.

 

Dial H

The Concept: The second-most-interesting of the six new series is this dark reimagining of the classically goofy “Dial H for Hero” concept. The original serialization appeared in the House of Secrets anthology from DC in the 1960s, with Robby Reed and his magical rotary dial that gave him the ability to turn into random superheroes whenever he dialed H-E-R-O.

The popular Ben 10 cartoon series is a riff on this old premise, with super-powered aliens subbed in for costumed superheroes. While that variation achieved great popularity with American and international audiences, the “Dial H for Hero” non-franchise has popped up in American comics every now and again but has never actually been close to what we might call popular.

I’ve always had a fondness for the various incarnations though, particularly the 1980s version from Adventure Comics where reader-submitted superhero ideas made it onto the page whenever Chris King and Vicky Grant dialed the magic word. Writer Will Pfeifer and Kano also brought a fresh take on the series in the 2000s, in a comic titled H.E.R.O. In that most-recent version, which lasted for 22 strong issues, the magical dial bounced from victim to victim, seemingly granting immense power, but always at a price.

The new Dial H series seems to tread closer to the waters of the Will Pfeifer comics than the Silver or Bronze Age variations, with writer China Mieville exploring “the psychological effects on an everyman who accidentally gains powers to become a hero.” Seems like a dark Vertigo-esque version of what has come before.

The Creative Team: The major draw here, and the just-as-major wild card, is writer China Mieville. Mieville is, of course, a fantasy/sci-fi superstar novelist who has only dabbled in comics before. Dial H will not only be his first ongoing comic book series, but it will be his first published full-length comic book story. He’s only previously had a short in an anthology and a chapter in a Hellblazer anniversary issue.

He has, reportedly, written half a dozen (or more) full scripts to a Swamp Thing series intended for Vertigo, but that series was cancelled because of the plans for the reboot, so not a single page of that commissioned work ever saw the light. He worked with Vertigo chief Karen Berger on that project, and she’s also editing this new Dial H series, which will be the first DCU series she has directly edited in nearly two decades.

Anyway, he’s an excellent prose writer, but that rarely translates to “excellent comics writer.” Maybe it will this time.

I’m not much familiar with the work of Brazilian artist Mateus Santoluoco, but from what I’ve seen of his Lethal Legion miniseries from Marvel, he will bring an expressive angularity to this series, and a penchant for dripping darkness.

Recommendation: I say buy it purely on the pedigree of China Mieville and the quality of his work in genre fiction. But it’s not an enthusiastic “buy it” with double exclamation points. The series sounds like it might be too ponderous, or too Alan-Moore-lite. But Mieville has a sharp enough intellect to pull it off, if he doesn’t let the story collapse under its own weight. So don’t hesitate to drop the series if it looks to be heading toward hyper-serious inaction.

 

Earth 2

The Concept: The Justice Society, the world’s first super-team, is back! But not as they were, and not on Earth. Okay, they’re on Earth, just a parallel version of the DCU, where costumed mystery men fought in WWII and…maybe some other things are different as well.

The truth is that we still know almost nothing about this series other than its title, its creative team, and something about a darkness defeated, and a society of heroes rising up to fight against a new threat.

This is the same series that was rumored to be part of the initial DC relaunch, but back then it was merely known as “Justice Society,” and by shifting the title to the more provocative Earth 2, it all of a sudden opens up more possibilities about what the series might emphasize. Sure, it will still likely be about a group of men and women who wear costumes and fight bad guys, just like the great WWII superheroes of yesteryear, but it’s an entire parallel reality. Anything could happen, unbound by the continuity of the rest of the DC 52.

The Creative Team: Writer James Robinson has been back in comics for half a decade, but he hasn’t come close to producing work of the quality that we saw on his landmark Starman run in the 1990s. His work on the current Shade miniseries has been his best of his recent stuff, and that bodes well, as does the fact that he’s particularly good when delving into DCU history. He has a fondness for the relics of the past, and it shines in his comics.

Artist Nicola Scott is a fine superhero artist who can portray emotion and action with equal facility. She’s a clean storyteller, with a confident style. She won’t do anything groundbreaking, but she’ll get the job done with flair.

Recommendation: Buy it! If I had to gamble, I’d wager on this series being one of the most entertaining out of DC’s whole line up. If Robinson and Scott do what they do best, this will be a comic full of action and romance and mystery and tragedy. It has a shot at being the kind of pure comic book experience that the clean-slate New DCU was designed to allow, but with the Justice Society at its center it will also have a chance to engage with the now-wiped-away past of the contemporary heroes. I don’t expect great depth to Earth 2, but if it ended up being more than traditional superheroics I wouldn’t be a bit surprised either.

 

World’s Finest

The Concept: Huntress — daughter of the Batman and Catwoman from another Earth — and Power Girl – Supergirl from a parallel reality – “struggle to find their way back to Earth 2.” It’s a nice premise, playing around with the DC multiverse, and providing an opportunity for a female buddy comic that brings the Batman and Superman families together for a story that’s potentially cosmic in scope.

Ever since Crisis on Infinite Earths, Huntress and Power Girl have floundered, with writers trying to wedge them into a single-Earth continuity in which they never belonged. The Huntress is just a vigilante with a tiny crossbow, unless she has the benefit of being the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. Power Girl is just a blonde with a memorable costume, unless she has a connection to Krypton. With those characteristics stripped away from them, post-Crisis, the characters always flailed around for relevance. Some of their comics may have been good – particularly some of the Huntress stuff from Birds of Prey or the Power Girl series as drawn by Amanda Conner – but the direction of this new series seems far more appropriate to their origins.

The Creative Team: Paul Levitz, creator of both Huntress and Power Girl, back when he used to write about their adventures in the old-timey Earth 2 of the All-Star Comics “JSA” strip of the 1970s, has been brought back in to chronicle their new adventures. And 1980s icons George Perez and Kevin Maguire will take turns with the art.

Levitz, former President and Publisher of DC Comics, has plenty of experience with the characters, of course, but while his impressive work on the Legion of Super-Heroes series two or three decades ago garnered him appropriate respect for his deft characterizations and structural ambition, he hasn’t been able to write much of interest since leaving the DC HQ to retire back into the role of a freelancer. As much as I’ve been eager to praise Levitz past work, his return to the Legion of Super-Heroes has been lightweight and decidedly unspectacular, and his recent scripts for the Huntress miniseries have been consistently flat and perfunctory.

George Perez and Kevin Maguire are incredible talents, of course, but the kind of stuff they’ve been producing in recent years (namely Superman and My Greatest Adventure) haven’t been worth reading at all.

Recommendation: Skip it. If everyone starts to shout about how unexpectedly good this comic is, you can always pick up the collection or hop over to Comixology and get caught up on what you missed. But that isn’t likely to happen. It’s far more likely that it will struggle to make it to issue #12, and Perez and/or Maguire will struggle to meet a few deadlines during that time. There’s a precedent for that.

 

G.I. Combat

The Concept: DC brings back “The War that Time Forgot,” which, were it to be turned into a movie, would simply be called “Tanks vs. Dinosaurs.” Originally a product of the venerable 1960s and the mind of war comics impresario Robert Kanigher, “The War that Time Forgot” appeared as a recurring strip in Star-Spangled War Stories, and if you read the collected Showcase reprint volume of those tales, you’ll find that they’re written for a very different audience then we would expect today. Each story, particularly during the first year, was written as if the readers – or writer – had never read any previous issues, and as if the military had never communicated back to headquarters that they’d found an island filled with dinosaurs. Each story was, basically, “Hmm…strange island, not on any maps, holy smokes! We’re being attacked by dinosaurs! [Insert clever fight sequence/escape route] Whew! We’re lucky to have made it out of there alive.”

Eventually, Kanigher started to build some continuity in the strip, and added new twists like G.I. Robot (get this: a soldier, that’s a robot!) and the first, non-super-powered Suicide Squad.

Still, dinosaurs vs. army men is a fun concept, and when Bruce Jones resurrected the idea with a time-travel-meets-Lost­ twist in 2008’s The War that Time Forgot 12-issue series, it seemed like a series worth reading. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was like watching someone else play chess while making up new rules as they played.

“The War that Time Forgot” – in some form – will be the lead feature of this new G.I. Combat series, with rotating back-ups featuring other DC wartime characters and concepts “The Unknown Soldier” (secret ops, in disguise!) and “The Haunted Tank” (a racist Civil War general’s ghost, in the modern day! Or WWII or something!)

The Creative Team: The “War that Time Forgot” strip will be written by J. T. Krul and illustrated by Ariel Olivetti. Krul relaunched both Green Arrow and Captain Atom for the New 52 last fall, and while the latter was a bit of a slog, but perfectly readable, the former was one of the worst of the relaunch titles. He has yet to write anything that I’ve actually enjoyed. And Ariel Olivetti, who once drew comics a decade ago with a scratchy line and 2000 AD-style grittiness, now tends to use collage and screenshot backgrounds to go along with his digitally-painted character work. He has done spectacular work at times, but he’s also done some gaudy, jarringly inconsistent work. We’ll see which Olivetti shows up for this series.

The back-ups will be written by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and John Arcudi, and drawn by Dan Panosian and Scott Kolins. I’d rather see any of those guys take over the lead story, honestly.

Recommendation: Skip it. I’m more curious about the back-up stories than I am about what Krul and Olivetti will do with the lead feature, and I don’t see anything here that will give G.I. Combat a better chance of audience appeal than the two already-cancelled DC war comics. Unless it’s the dinosaurs. Maybe the dinosaurs alone will be enough to make this series vaguely interesting.

 

The Ravagers

The Concept: Okay, out of the new six, this is the only one that isn’t a relaunch or a reboot of something that came before. There’s no 1960s-era “Ravagers” back-up strip from Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane. Perhaps there should have been. Kurt Schaffenberger would have knocked it out of the park.

But here’s what we know about The Ravagers: “this series finds four superpowered teens on the run and fighting against the organization that wants to turn them into supervillains.” And the press release indicates that it’s a spin-off from the current Superboy and Teen Titans comics.

So here’s what we can piece together: the series will likely star Rose Wilson, daughter of Deathstroke, the Terminator, a female mercenary who currently appears in Scott Lobdell’s Superboy. Rose Wilson used the Ravager identity pre-reboot, and was a regular enemy/ally of the Teen Titans for a solid 20 years. Now, she’s an agent of the shadowy N.O.W.H.E.R.E. in Lobdell’s comics, and we can only assume that she’ll break free from her masters and hit the road with some other N.O.W.H.E.R.E. operatives and/or captives.

Former Gen 13 member Caitlin Fairchild also appears in the Lobdell comics, and it’s likely that she could be one of the “Ravagers” in the title of the series.

The Creative Team: Though clearly an offshoot of Scott Lobdell’s current DC work, this series will be written by former Marvel editor/writer Howard Mackie. Mackie is most well-known for his 1990s take on Ghost Rider, though rampant speculation also presumes that he was the writer of the Brotherhood series, which was credited only to a writer known as “X.” Mackie comes from the same tradition as Lobdell – both 90s X-Men title veterans – and while he won’t likely do anything fresh with The Ravagers, he will provide plenty of old-school action and pathos, I’m sure.

The artist is Ian Churchill, another veteran creator who rose to prominence on X-Men related comics of the 1990s. He has a post-Rob Liefeld, post-Jim Lee style that pushes into more expressive territory than either, but he’s also less of a stylist in his compositions.

Recommendation: This might turn out to be a fun series to read, in the mold of the more simpleminded of the X-Men or Teen Titans comics of the past. Or, more likely, in the exact mold of Gen 13. Superpowered teens on the run. By 1990s comic book talent. Sounds like it might be a reboot after all, just under a different name. Skip it, unless Gen 13 is your thing. La generación de trece!


Tim Callahan wrote The Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe for Tor last year, and he’s 1/4th of the way through The Great Alan Moore Reread. He likes comics.

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