This has been old news for a few weeks now, but I wanted to say a few things about DC’s new “Earth One” graphic novel initiative. A lot has been made already about how this is going to be an ongoing series of graphic novels featuring continuity-free reboots of Batman and Superman and the differences between publishing these as original hardcover graphic novels versus serializing them as single issues. If you’ve been following my podcast and these posts for any length of time, you’ll know that I vastly prefer my comics in trade paperback or OGN form than single issues, so I like this development. That said, all of the concerns about price, format, release schedule, creative teams (Geoff Johns writing and Gary Frank drawing “Batman,” and J. Michael Straczynski writing and Shane Davis drawing “Superman”) all become irrelevant in the face of one thing:
Will they be any good?
God knows that most people thought that Marvel’s “Ultimate” line of comics was a bad idea when it was launched. How would re-starting the continuity of the X-Men and Spider-Man make the characters more relevant and interesting to a modern audience? To the surprise of pretty much everyone, the comics turned out to be quite entertaining and while the line has lost a lot of its luster in the wake of Jeph Loeb’s mangling of “The Ultimates” and the “Ultimatum” event, it still brought us a lot of entertaining comics over the years. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s “Ultimates,” the “Ultimate X-Men” runs by Millar, Brian Michael Bendis’, and Brian K. Vaughan, Warren Ellis’ “Ultimate Galactus” and “Ultimate Fantastic Four: N-Zone,” and chief amongst them – Bendis’ “Ultimate Spider-Man,” with art by Mark Bagley (over one hundred issues!) and Stuart Immonen, and is the one Spider-Man title that I’d recommend to anyone who wants to see why the character is such an enduring icon.
Now “Earth One” seems like DC’s attempt to finally do an “Ultimate”-style re-imagining of the iconic characters from their universe. Their previous attempt, the “All-Star” line, was pretty much justified by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s “All-Star Superman,” but the walking punchline that is Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s “All-Star Batman” and their utter failure to get another title out of the line obviously necessitated the need to start things over from scratch. The other problem here is that alternate-universe re-imaginings of its characters is something that DC has been doing for years in its retired “Elseworlds” line and various out-of-continuity mini-series that pop up for certain characters over the years. They’re going to need to clearly define what makes this particular re-imagining different in order to make it stand out from all the others. (This includes Johns’ and Frank’s re-telling of Superman’s origin in the “Secret Origin” mini-series which is currently being serialized, and might even wind up being collected in hardcover in time to hit stands with the “Earth One” Superman OGN.)
Of course, all this will cease to be an issue if the stories turn out to catch the same lightning in a bottle that the “Ultimate” line did, and we’ll see them selling like hotcakes and introducing a whole new audience or even generation of readers to the awesomeness of Batman and Superman. We won’t know if that’ll happen for a while as I’ve only heard “sometime in 2010” tossed around as a launch date for these OGNs. As for me, I’m going to do what I always do in these situations and wait for them to come out and read the reviews online to see if they’re worth ordering through Amazon. I’m not going to buy them on sight because while I’ve liked some of Straczynski’s and Johns’ other works, neither have put out consistently excellent comics work the way other writers like Bendis, Garth Ennis, and Grant Morrison have that make me buy pretty much everything they do on sight. Still, it’d be nice if this podcast became famous enough for DC to send me complimentary copies to review… but I’d give better odds on “Earth One” capturing that “lightning in a bottle” before that happens.
I’ll keep trying, though! In the meantime, so that the title of this post doesn’t become a complete misnomer here are some reviews:
Yotsuba&! vol. 7: If you haven’t noticed that the world is now a better place since Yen Press started releasing new volumes of Kiyohiko Azuma’s brilliantly funny and cute series, then that’s probably because you aren’t reading it. Yes, its cuteness may call to mind the “moe” stereotype that’s infesting a lot of anime and manga today, but it’s such a well-thought-out work of comic genius that it transcends those initial impressions and becomes something that everyone can enjoy. This may sound like overblown praise for a series that chronicles the (mis-)adventures of a five-year-old girl who, in this volume, learns about pastry making, respect for the elderly day, catches a fever, and goes to a ranch (where she punches a sheep!), but Azuma’s perfect comic timing and knack for creating honest (but absurd) character scenarios will most likely make anyone a believer if they give the series a chance.
Detroit Metal City vol. 3: Meanwhile, at the other end of the comedic manga spectrum, Kiminori Wakasugi’s Metal epic continues to successfully mine fresh laughs out of its one-joke premise. Showing how beyond-wimpy protagonist Soichiro Negishi balances his real life and his job as Death Metal God Krauser II should’ve degenerated into sitcom-rote situations by now, but Wakasugi keeps finding new situations to exploit. These include showing how bandmember Jagi just doesn’t have the same charisma as Negishi does when he’s Krauser and how Negishi tries to help him compensate, and the band’s exploits at the heavy metal festival that begin the series’ longest arc to date. Great stuff, and it comes with a special recommendation to people who are Metal or want to find out what being Metal means.
Ooku vol. 2: Now that I finally have this volume in my hands, let me say that it does live up to the promise that the first volume displayed. It does take the long way around in doing so, as rather than picking up with where we left off with Shogun Yoshimune in the last volume, we’re introduced to a new cast of characters and setting. Picking up not long after the redface pox has noticeably decimated Japan’s supply of men, mangaka Fumi Yoshinaga goes about the business of showing how the transition of power from the men to the women was handled after the outbreak by showing us the tragic fate of a Buddhist monk, Arikoto, and two of his disciples. After circumstances conspire to bring Arikoto and one of his disciples to the Ooku, we get to see that it was still a very treacherous place even in these early days, and the truth behind many of the conventions and rules of the place that were established in the first volume. Some parts are decidedly unsettling, but more for the actions of the characters than cheap shock value, which only underlines the strength of Yoshinaga’s storytelling skills and illustrate why this is a series that everyone should be reading.
Children of the Sea vol. 2: This, on the other hand, is not. Right now this series falls squarely in my “I’m buying it so that Viz will release other titles that aren’t mainstream friendly,” camp. It’s the story of a young girl named Ruka who meets two strange boys named Umi and Sora one summer and bonds with them. These boys are strange because they’ve spent most of their life in the sea and are currently being studied by researchers in order to find out just how different they are from us. The problem is that there’s too much focus on the central mystery of what Umi and Sora actually are and what they portend for the world, and not enough on the characters or the plot itself. This is the kind of book where we’re constantly told that something mysterious is going on, but are never really given any answers or clues to figure out what it is or to even try to guess at it. There’s no question that mangaka Daisuke Igarashi is a hell of an artist, and he makes the scenery and characters really come to life on the page, but he doesn’t seem to have the same skill at telling a story or creating characters that are interesting enough for us to follow through it. People who can appreciate a story just for its art alone will definitely get more out of this than I did, but there are better mature/alternative/different manga out there that deserve your money more.