Stop me if you’ve heard this before: DC is embarking on another initiative to expand comics’ readership and is pissing off its retailers in the process. It was announced last week that DC will be selling a monthly line of 100-Page Giant anthology collections via Wal-Mart featuring “Batman,” “Superman,” and “Justice League.” While the majority of these anthologies will be made up of reprints, the part that has rankled retailers is the fact that the ones featuring “Batman” and “Superman” will feature new 12-part 12-page stories from Brian Michael Bendis and Nick Derington, and Tom King and Andy Kubert, respectively. That Wal-Mart will be getting exclusive stories from top-tier talent has not gone down well with retailers. (Tim Seely will be writing a “Wonder Woman” story for the “Justice League” anthology, sadly for him his name hasn’t been brought up as much in this conversation.)
This isn’t the first time a comics company has tried to tap into the potential of selling at a giant retailer like Wal-Mart. Marvel tried the same thing a few years back, but solely with reprints and at a higher price point than what DC is offering. Even though it’s only twelve new pages in each anthology, the promise of exclusive content will help alleviate any concerns from this new audience that they’re just getting sloppy seconds. As well as get sales from regular comics readers, which is the comics’ retailers whole problem with this. I can understand why they’d be angry, but history shows that this kind of outreach usually ends up being swept under the rug in a year. If these anthologies are still going strong with new creators after the Bendis/Derington and King/Kubert runs, then retailers should break out the torches and pitchforks.
As for me, I find it hard to care about all this. Though the new comics have been promoted as exclusive content, it’s also been said that they’ll be collected in separate volumes down the line. Which comics retaliers will, in all likelihood, be able to sell at their shops. History tells me that this isn’t going to work, but all this fuss will die down after a while. Comics retailers may hate what DC is doing, but they still need the company for their livelihood after all.
Wonder Woman: Earth One vol. 2: Now that the first volume has got Diana’s origin out of the way and established her motivation for coming to “Man’s World” this should be nothing but good stuff from Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette. Right? The solicitation text is light on actual plot details for this volume, intimating mostly that Diana’s biggest obstacle will be dealing with a dysfunctional U.S. government that is mistrustful of her mission. “Insidious forces” are also mentioned, which reads as code for the idea that one of her most notable rogues -- possibly Cheetah, but I’d bet on Ares -- might show up in this volume as well. For all its flaws, I still liked the first volume so you can bet I’ll be picking this up when it arrives in September.
Heroes in Crisis #1 (of 7): Oh boy... Let’s start by saying this is a new miniseries from writer Tom King and artist Clay Mann, who managed the herculean task of getting us to take Kite Man seriously in the pages of “Batman.” Now they’re trying something else, which sounds really ill-advisable in the context of a corporate-owned shared superhero universe. “Heroes in Crisis” introduces us to Sanctuary, a place in the DC Universe where heroes receive counseling to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder from conflicts both street-level and cosmic in scale. The reason I say that this sounds ill-advisable is because things like trauma and PTSD kind of have to be glossed over in order for a monthly superhero title to work for any length of time. Superheroes find themselves in traumatic, stressful situations month after month and they likely wouldn’t be able to function if the psychological fallout from them was addressed in a realistic manner. Batman may represent the pinnacle of human performance, but he’d be reduced to a non-functioning wreck if we had to consider what his regular encounters with the Joker alone were doing to his mind. While it’s admirable that King wants to address these conditions, I don’t think that picking apart one of the unwritten rules of superhero comics is the way to do it.
This is before we get into the fact that this series begins with all of the superheroes in Sanctuary being found dead, with Harley Quinn and Booster Gold becoming the prime suspects. That’s right, this series that’s all about showing us how superheroes deal with PTSD begins with a lot of those who suffer from it dead! Maybe it’s a metaphor for something else, but it looks really bad on paper right now. I think that King and Mann should’ve done this concept in a creator-owned superhero title of their own. One that isn’t weighed down by the baggage and conventions necessary for the DCU to function as it does.
Batman: Damned #1 (of 3): And now for something lighter, a miniseries where Batman might have murdered the Joker and has to team up with John Constantine to uncover the truth. This is coming to us from DC’s Black Label imprint, which means that it’s a “mature readers” title and therefore the closest thing we’ll get to seeing Vertigo-era Constantine back in action. That the writer for this miniseries, Brian Azzarello, also has one of the best “Hellblazer” runs to his name is encouraging in this regard. Azzarello is also teaming up with frequent collaborator Lee Bermejo for this project so it’ll no doubt look great. Even though the thought of a team-up between Batman and Constantine does cause me to grind my teeth a little, I’ll just remind myself that they’ve already met once in the pages of “Swamp Thing” and do my best to get over it and enjoy this miniseries.
Cover #1 (of 6): Way back in his starving indie days, Bendis did a two-part miniseries called “Fire” which showed us how an average guy was recruited for espionage work and nearly lost himself in the game. This new miniseries, with artist David Mack, seems of a piece with that title as it’s about how someone in the American intelligence community realizes that comic book creators -- the most popular ones, who are big enough to get invited to other countries -- would make for good agents. The solicitation text implies there’s some truth to this, but I imagine it’ll be lost in the name of telling an entertaining story. While this sounds good, I’m still waiting to see if Bendis can actually deliver these new creator-owned titles at DC on a regular schedule. Anyone who wants to read this in single-issue form should wait too, or just be like me and wait for the trade. Ditto for the new The United States vs. Murder, Inc. miniseries which kicks off this month as well.
The Dreaming #1: Simon Spurrier takes on the world of “The Sandman” minus Dream himself. It turns out that Daniel has gone missing and his servants, including master librarian Lucien, are left to protect the Dreaming from the many threats assailing it. This sounds like an ideal fit for Spurrier’s fertile imagination and he’s got a talented partner in Bilquis Evely to help flesh it out. My main concern here is that every ongoing series to launch from the Vertigo imprint as of late has been dead within a year and a half. I expected a similarly dire commercial fate for Spurrier’s “X-Men: Legacy” run, but he managed to make it last for two years. His “X-Force” run, however, was over in fifteen issues. If this turns out to be as good as I expect it to be, then a run closer to the former than the latter, if not longer, should be in the cards.
Absolute Daytripper HC: I loved this miniseries from Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, where the main character died at different points in his life at the end of each issue. Normally I’d recommend this new edition with a “If you haven’t read it by now…” advisory, but DC’s asking $100 for this. Even with the deluxe, oversized format that seems like way too much. Especially when the paperback edition is still available for a fraction of that price.
Batman vol. 7: The Wedding: Will Catwoman leave Batman at the altar, or will the superhero and the super-thief finally tie the knot? In their costumes, of course. Bruce Wayne still has a reputation as Gotham’s most eligible bachelor to protect. Whatever happens, expect it to come with lots of drama.
Batman: White Knight: Writer/artist Sean Murphy asks what happens when the Joker finds his way back to sanity and Batman becomes the villain in his own story as a result. That this miniseries will look amazing is not in doubt as Murphy is one of the best artists in comics as far as I’m concerned. Whether or not he’ll be able to do justice to such a high concept remains to be seen. That said, this series has certainly generated a lot of buzz in single issue form so I’m going to be optimistic once I sit down to read it.
John Constantine: Hellblazer 30th Anniversary Edition: It’s nice that DC is marking the character’s 30th anniversary with a collected edition that’s meant to spotlight some of his most memorable stories. They even got Sting, the visual inspiration for Constantine, to write the introduction. What they didn’t get was a good selection of issues from the character’s best days both pre-and-during Vertigo. Three of them at least, his first appearance in “Swamp Thing #37,” the story of “Newcastle” in issue #11, and the Neil Gaiman-written #27, do belong in a collection like this. The rest are a mix of first issues from notable storylines and one-offs. Why you’d only put the first issue of a storyline in a collection like this does boggle the mind a little. As for the single issues, they’re good: #63 was the title’s first Vertigo issue and the story of Constantine’s 40th birthday party. #120 was a fun little anniversary issue that included lots of famous faces from the title’s run as Constantine took the reader on a little adventure. #229 was definitely one of Mike Carey’s better issues as he has the character embark on a sinister goody-go-round. If it were me I would’ve picked #42, the second part of “Dangerous Habits” but a self-contained story where Constantine has a drink with the Devil, #100, where our anti-hero meets his father in Hell, and #213, the best issue of Carey’s mediocre run where Constantine learns about his special gift. Is this still worth picking up? I suppose it wouldn’t make for a bad introduction to the character, but if you’re as familiar with the character’s exploits as I am you can just leave it on the shelf.
The Man of Steel by Brian Michael Bendis HC: While he worked at Marvel I bought the majority of Bendis’ books after they had transitioned to paperback. If I was going to pick up one of his titles in hardcover, you can be sure that I got it at a very deep discount. As the hardcover edition of his “Man of Steel” miniseries indicates, I’ll be continuing that trend for his DC work.