Look For Me in Duckburg

ducktalesrebootposter-1-600x900On the one hand, the world is once again on the brink of nuclear annihilation. On the other hand, tomorrow is the premiere of the first episode of DuckTales in 27 years, so things can’t actually be that bad.

I need you guys to understand something. This new DuckTales series, which I haven’t watched yet as I write this, has me excited. Like… really excited. I’m talking The Force Awakens levels of excited. Wonder Woman levels of excited. The McRib is back levels of excited.

Because DuckTales isn’t just a cartoon for me, not really. It’s not even just a great cartoon, one of the best of the 80s, with the catchiest theme song ever written in the history of music. DuckTales is special to me in a way very few cartoons are.

Ducktales OriginalThe original DuckTales premiered in 1987, when I was about to turn ten years old, and I watched it, like every other child in America. I liked it. I enjoyed it. It was a fun show, with lots of adventure on top of the humor. Scrooge and his nephews went out and found lost cities of gold and plunged the depths of the oceans. They encountered a spacecraft full of miniscule alien ducks and a subterranean race of creatures that looked like nothing more than rubber balls with arms and a face. It was glorious. But I was at an odd age, one where I started to feel like I was a little too old for certain things (this was not a stage that lasted very long for me, but there it was nonetheless), among them, Disney comics. I was into comic books by then, big-time, but my reading time was devoted to things like Spider-Man, Green Lantern, and a mysterious superhero group that has been lost to time called the Fantastic Four. I was ten. Nearly a teenager. Who had time for comics with a bunch of ducks?

I was a moron, is what I’m getting at.

But even so, I watched DuckTales. And oddly enough, parts of it seemed… familiar.

Uncle Scrooge 1I got older and I got over myself, which is something that a lot of people never figure out how to do. I realized the notion of “outgrowing” something that is legitimately good is ridiculous, and I found my way back to Disney comics. Specifically, I found myself reading more and more of the works of Carl Barks. Barks, a one-time animator at Disney, really made his mark when he switched to comic books. It was there that he created Scrooge McDuck and made him a globe-trotting adventurer, one who found lost cities and sunken continents, tiny aliens from outer space… and… underground dwellers who looked like rubber balls?

Holy crap. DuckTales had pillaged Barks shamelessly.

I wasn’t bitter, though. Far from it. Realizing that the show I watched as a child had drawn so heavily from the Disney comics somehow made me appreciate both of them even more. And if Barks wasn’t enough, I soon discovered his spiritual successor Don Rosa. Not only did Rosa continue telling Scrooge and Donald stories in the vein that Barks had for decades, but he was writing and drawing beautiful sequels to those stories. Then, in a work that I maintain is not just the masterwork of Disney comics, but one of the finest comic book stories of all time, Rosa wove together all of Barks’s classic Scrooge stories into an outstanding, comprehensive history: The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.

Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck V1(Side note: If the people at Disney have a brain in their heads, they’ll lock in David Tennant to star in a big-screen adaptation of Life and Times RIGHT THE HELL NOW.)

Barks and Rosa, to me, are up there with the likes of Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson, and Jim Henson. They are creators who prove that you can do something magnificent that truly belongs to all ages. Work intended for children doesn’t have to be tedious and boring for adults. Stories that thrill an adult don’t have to include elements that make them inappropriate for children. These creators are among the finest of those who make work that sincerely belongs to everyone.

And now DuckTales is coming back, and if everything I’ve seen is to be believed, the new series seems to draw even more from Barks’s Scrooge than the old one did.

There’s one other reason I’m ecstatic about this new DuckTales, and it may be the most important one.

2017070395115943

He’s supposed to arrive some time next month.

I’m going to be a father, something that (if I’m going to be honest) I never thought was going to happen. And not only is it happening, but it’s happening right now, just as one of the greatest things of my childhood is returning to the world. I’m going to have a son, and I’m going to have a new DuckTales series to share with him.

And after the year Erin and I have had, that little bit of joy is almost enough to make me burst.

The premiere of the new series plays all day on August 12 on Disney XD, or on the Disney XD and ABC apps for free. So that’s where you’ll find me for a while: riding a hurricane into the quaint little town of Duckberg, racing giant robots, seeking treasure, chasing crooked Beagles. And a little down the line, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an armored accountant and the terror that flaps in the night.

It feels like coming home.

Merry Christmas, Showcase Family

Hello, friends of the Showcase! Merry Christmas to you all! In just a moment, our traditional Showcase gallery of Christmas comic covers. But two quick things:

  1. Don’t forget, we’re still taking your votes for the top ten franchises that need a Rebirth makeover for an upcoming episode. You can read the full details here.
  2. As I do every Christmas, I’ve written a new short story that I’m giving away for free. You can get it for your Kindle or Kindle app right here.

And that’s it! You guys have a wonderful Christmas, a Happy New Year, and we’ll see you soon!

Three Wishes: Comics on TV

In Three Wishes, I choose a topic and pick three (often pie-in-the-sky) dreams I’d like to see become a reality. Most of these will never see the light of day, but in a perfect world, they would.

 bone-1I recently finished a re-read of Jeff Smith’s series Bone, a comic I dearly loved when it was published originally in the 90s and early 00s, and one that I’m happy to report still holds up marvelously. For the first few issues (or chapters, for those who read it in collected editions), it seems as though this comic will be a sweet, funny tale about three cartoonish characters driven out of their home and forced to make a new one in a strange valley with bizarre creatures. The tone shifts rapidly, though, and it soon becomes clear that Bone is really an epic fantasy series, full of adventure and mysticism that shares more DNA with the likes of Lord of the Rings than Garfield.

The final issue of Bone was published in 2004, but despite that fact, it may be more popular today than ever before. Thanks to a well-structured partnership with Scholastic Publishing, an entire generation of young readers has grown up with the three cousins from Boneville in the 12 years since the series was completed. At the time the book was still in production, there was often discussion of a Bone movie, and Nickelodeon even expressed interest in the project. However, it became clear to Smith that they had no idea what the property really was when they wanted to give Fone Bone a pair of magic gloves and a soundtrack by N’Sync, and he eventually killed the deal. The most recent information I could find says that Warner Bros held the film rights as of 2012, but nothing has really been done with them and I don’t know if they even still hold Bone in their stable.

Regardless, the more I thought about it, the less I think a Bone movie would be a good idea. I really think the better home for this incredible story would be on television. The TV landscape has undergone a seismic change since Bone finished its run. In fact, the change began even earlier, in the 90s, with shows like Twin Peaks (the more famous example) and Babylon 5 (the more successful example) showing that TV was an excellent medium for longform storytelling. Whereas most shows were episodic, telling one story each week that often brought no lasting change to the main characters or the status quo of the series, these shows were willing to experiment with a single extended story that had its own beginning, middle, and end. The same year that Bone’s final issue was published, ABC launched a TV show with a similarly simple title: LOST. It became a breakout hit and since then, serialized stories have become commonplace. In fact, two of the biggest shows on TV today are serialized adaptations of genre properties: Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.

bone-55A Bone TV show would be the best way to explore the rich world Jeff Smith created in his 55 issues (and assorted specials and spin-offs), allowing the audience to learn the whole story in its beautiful complexity instead of truncating it to the measly 90 minutes it would likely get on the big screen. The show would, of course, have to be animated – you simply can’t capture the charm of the Bone cousins in live action and having CGI avatars of them interacting with real humans would, frankly, look silly. But how do you sell a TV network on a fantasy cartoon series with a predetermined end date?

Go to Netflix.

As a platform, Netflix has proven itself to be a good fit for more unorthodox properties that would have struggled to find a network home (Stranger Things being the most recent hit example). They’re also no strangers to comic book content, with six different Marvel series in various stages of production. In addition, Netflix has a long-standing partnership with Dreamworks Animation which, okay, is responsible for a lot of bleah shows based on their movies, but also gave us the amazing reboot of Voltron. I feel confident that, with the right show runner, Bone could be another Netflix hit.

Another thing that has severely shaken up TV over the past decade is the influx of superhero programming. In the past, there were rarely more than one or two comic book-based shows at a time, and only a handful of those lasted longer than a few seasons. Now, though, superheroes are everywhere on the tube. Aside from the aforementioned Netflix shows, Marvel has Agents of SHIELD and the late, lamented Peggy Carter on ABC, a Cloak and Dagger series coming to Freeform, and Runaways was recently announced as a Hulu series. Fox has Gotham and has recently begun development of a Black Lightning series, and the CW has DC superhero shows that are all part of the same shared continuity four nights a week! If I could tell my ten-year-old self the sort of stuff I’d have on my DVR one day, he would first ask me what a DVR is, then proceed to crap his pants.

irredeemable-1But you’ll notice this superhero content is almost exclusively DC and Marvel. There’s nothing wrong with mining those universes for content, but there’s got to be room for some variety. So combining this with TV’s love for serial stories, I’d love to see Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s Irredeemable make it to the screen. Originally published by BOOM! Studios, this series explores a world where the most powerful superhero of them all, the Plutonian, is driven mad and turns against the world. Although many of the themes would later show up in the better-known Injustice: Gods Among Us, Irredeemable not only did it first, but it goes to even darker places. Also, since it isn’t dependent on using the existing DC superheroes, Waid had the freedom to twist his characters in ways even Injustice wouldn’t dare to do. And finally, unlike Injustice – which will keep on going as long as the video game series it’s based on is profitable – Irredeemable had a solid ending that managed to finish with an air of hope despite the harsh world in which it was incubated. To be honest, the ending is probably the biggest strike against bringing Irredeemable to television. While it works very well in comics, there’s a strong metafictional aspect to it that may be difficult to pull off on the screen. But damn, I’d love to watch them try.

As superheroes have risen to TV prominence, there’s one other formerly-shunned format that has risen in popularity: the anthology. After FX’s popular American Horror Story began its second season by starting an entirely new story with only the faintest connective tissue to season one, there have been several popular shows that attempt the same format. Viewers now accept shows where the ongoing threads are thematic instead of following the same characters or plot, something that hasn’t been popular since the heyday of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. (There have been a few popular anthologies since then – Tales From the Crypt, for example – but they’ve been pretty rare.

Anthology series allow for the same sort of storytelling as a serialized show, but on a smaller scale and with the chance to refresh and try something different each episode or each season. I can think of no comic book I’d like to see in this format more than Kurt Busiek’s Astro City.

Astro City 1Astro City, if you have somehow never read it, is a series about a superhero universe that includes pretty much all of the tropes of superhero comics, but with twists. Samaritan (the Superman analogue) is terribly lonely and wants nothing more than to fly uninterrupted. The First Family (think about the initials) is made up of old Doc Savage-style science heroes and their superpowered children and grandchildren. The city’s Darkest Knight, the Confessor, is a Catholic priest who happens to be a vampire. And the thing is, none of these characters ever take the spotlight full-time. For most of its life over the past 20 years, Astro City stories have usually been one- or two-issue affairs, with a few rare six-issue tales. The longest story to date “The Dark Age,” ran for 16 issues. Even that, though, was broken up into a quartet of four-issue “Acts” with other short stories in-between.

The stories bounce around in time, shift the focus from heroes to villains to henchmen to bystanders, and constantly reinvent the comic over and over again, a perfect format for anthology television. Imagine a season of TV based on “Confession” or “Tarnished Angel,” occasionally punctuated by one-off episodes featuring the likes of Samaritan and Winged Victory’s first date, or the hauntingly beautiful “The Nearness of You.” You can do adventure, comedy, romance, and horror all in the same series. The only constant is the city itself.

TV isn’t what it once was, but I think that, on the whole, we’re getting some of the best shows ever made right now. These three comics would make a welcome addition to an already-rich landscape.

DC Rebirth: The Liveblog

DC RebirthDC Comics is going to be giving the dirt on Rebirth this morning at Wondercon, and they’re livestreaming the event on their YouTube channel. Dutiful nerd that I am, I decided to watch. Then I thought, what the heck? I’ve got a nerd blog. Why not post my reactions in real time as well?

So keep it on this page during the panel, folks, and hit refresh every few minutes. I’ll update as they do.

Kicking things off, they showed a video of DC heroes over the years, then they brought Dan DiDio and Jim Lee to the stage. Lee’s kind of adorkable, not entirely comfortable on camera but doing his best.

DiDio is calling rebirth a “reconnection to the fans” and says he wants to show the fans “we care about these characters as much as you do.” Without transcribing every word, he’s basically saying, “We hear you, and we feel it too, and here’s Geoff Johns to tell you more.”

(Brief tangent: How awesome is it that we live in an age where they can make this announcement in California, they put it on the internet, and I can watch it on my TV at home?)

Johns: “Rebirth is NOT a reboot.” As we have heard. He’s calling it “the next chapter.”

Johns on Green Lantern: Rebirth, and how it relates to the new initiative: “Rebirth is about taking everything, past and present, taking everything wonderful about these characters and bringing them to the fore.”

“What’s missing to me is Legacy.” YES.

The Rebirth one-shot in May will feature “the biggest secret in the DC Universe.” It will return some characters. It “may” feature the death of a character. Because of course it will.

Showing off some of the new designs for the characters. Oh my GOD, I love Supergirl so much. As soon as the pictures make it online, I’ll try to add them to this post.

Didio reiterates that the books will all be $2.99 an issue, with 17 twice-monthly titles and 14 monthly books. So fewer titles overall, but about the same number of issues a month.

Now we’re getting a video of fans and creators saying what their favorite DC stories are. I’m not disagreeing with any of the choices, but the audio sucks. We keep getting echo from the hall, and the sound is really low. Hopefully this isn’t going to be anything vital.

Bringing out the “Bat-Family,” Tom King (whose Vision is awesome) writing Batman, James Tynion IV on Detective Comics, Tim Seely on Nightwing, Hope Larsen on Batgirl and I missed the names of the women writing Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. This Batman image is crazy — a man and woman behind him wearing costumes with Batman colors but Superman-shield-shaped symbols with old lettering.

Augh, the video froze! Somebody tell them in LA!

It’s back.

TIM DRAKE AS ROBIN IN DETECTIVE COMICS! It’s a team book with Batman, Tim, Batwoman, Spoiler, CLAYFACE, and Cassandra Cain, whose new identity will come out of Batman and Robin Eternal.

Seeley’s first Nightwing arc is called “Better than Batman.” Tom King is verklempt.

Hope Larsen’s Batgirl looks like she’s running with the ball from the Burnside era, but taking her to Asia to “find herself as a person.” Rafael Albuquerque on art.

Julie Benson and Shawna Benson on Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. Somebody is pretending to be Oracle, and Barbara is ticked off. Black Canary and Huntress on the team… what version of the Huntress, then?

Scott Snyder, whose Batman has been awesome, will be teaming with John Romita Jr., on a twice-monthly All Star Batman. Romita’s co-artists will be Jock and Sean Murphy. Snyder says he wants to do stuff with the villains he hasn’t gotten to do before. At this point, you could give Snyder a Care Bears comic and I would read it. Also, Snyder is now DC-exclusive.

I’m sorry, I gotta say it again — Tim Drake as Robin.. And wearing a version of his classic costume. This makes me SO HAPPY.

Superman family!

Dan Jurgens writing Action Comics! The image is Superman slugging it with Lex Luthor in a kind of Superman armor. Dan says that this is the Superman and Lois from the current Lois and Clark series.

Gene Yang on New Superman. This one looks odd. It stars a Chinese teenager who somehow gets Superman’s powers. If anyone can do it, it Yang.

Steve Orlando on Supergirl! Again, I love this costume. It’s much more like the TV suit, and very classic-looking. Cat Grant is in the image too. Cyborg Superman (who in this universe is Kara’s father, Zor-El) will be in the book too.

Trinity, written and drawn by Francis Manapul, starring you-know who.

Phil Jimenez writing and drawing Superwoman! (Who the hell is Superwoman?)

Peter Tomasi writing Superman, which is awesome.

Then there’s Liam Sharpe on Wonder Woman. Is she a Superman-family book now? Jim Lee is calling Sharp his “big get” for Rebirth, like Greg Capullo was for the New 52. The costume, especially the colors, is very reminiscent of Gal Gadot. The book will be written by Greg Rucka!

The book will be written by Greg Rucka! And Sharp will be sharing art chores with Nicola Scott. Rucka says Sharp will be doing odd-numbered issues that take place in the present, while Scott will do even-numbered “Wonder Woman Year One” stories. Scott is AMAZING. This is a perfect fit for her.

Up next will be the Justice League family.

Tony Daniel doing art for Justice League. Bryan Hitch writing. TWO Green Lanterns on the team — Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz.

Joshua Williamson writing Flash. New Flash villain, “Godspeed.” Nice and creepy visual on this guy – skinny, all white, almost like Slenderman meets the Flash.

Robert Venditi writing Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. This book will have Ethan Van Sciver and Rafael Sandoval on art. Venditi says the book begins with Sinestro planting his Warworld in the center of the universe, where Oa once was, and it’s the story of what Hal and the Corps (including John Stewart and Guy Gardner) do next.

Sam Humphries writing Green Lanterns. Johns is going to co-write the Rebirth one-shot with Humphries. The book will star Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz as “the new Green Lanterns of Earth.” They’re rookies, partners, and “don’t know what they think of each other yet.” Humphries calls it “Lethal Weapon with alien technology.” Nice. The Red Lanterns are the bad guys in this book.

John Semper on Cyborg. Art by Will Conrad and, one of my favorites, Paul Pelletier. Semper says the book will be about Cyborg as someone “already living with the Singularity… where does the soul of the man begin and the soul of the machine start?”

Dan Abnett on Aquaman. Johns talks about Abnett’s past awesome work on Legion Lost and Guardians of the Galaxy. He’ll be co-writing with Brad Walker, who also will be sharing art chores with two others. (They’re flashing the credits on screen, guys, I’m writing as fast as I can, but I miss some.) Abnett says in this book Aquaman wants to make Atlantis “part of the world.” I can totally see Arthur sitting in a United Nations panel.

Abnett will also be writing Titans with Nightwing, Arsenal, Donna Troy, Tempest. Who is the woman in green?

Jason Fabok is here to talk about issue 50 of the current Justice League run, which he’s drawing. He says it will “blow your minds.” Okaaaay… so why are we talking about it on the Rebirth panel? I assume it’ll lead into the one-shot?

Holy crap. Johns just said this is going to follow-up on the part in issue 42 where Batman asks the Mobius Chair what the Joker’s real name is. They teased this with an image of many Jokers throughout the years. What the HELL are they up to?

Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner on Harley Quinn. Jim Lee says these two have made Harley “the fourth pillar that supports House DC.” Hard to argue with that. Conner says the book will have “more of the same madness PLUS.” The costume looks like they’ve merged the New 52 version with the movie version. She definitely has Margot Robbie hair.

Philip Tan on Suicide Squad. Lee will also be working with Rob Williams writing. He clarifies that each twice-monthly book has “a team of artists.” They tried to find artists with similar styles and sensibilities that work well together. Tan calls the book about “redemption.” The team will be Killer Croc, Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Rick Flagg, Katana, Boomerang… basically the movie team. Lee further says that Harley and Croc will be an interesting team-up, and Conner jumps in with “Harley’s power is that she doesn’t really know that she can’t do anything.” DiDio adds that she’s now DC-exclusive.

Conner says a lot more guest-stars in Harley’s book, including Poison Ivy, Power Girl, and a lot more “bat-characters and non-bat characters.”

Remaining titles:
Ben Percy on Green Arrow.
Red Hood and the Outlaws co-starring Bizarro and Artemis.
The Hellblazer by Simon Oliver, with Swamp Thing.
Deathstroke with Christopher Priest.
Batman Beyond with Dan Jurgens and Bernard Chang. “The return of Terry McGuinness.”
Blue Beetle with Keith Giffen, starring Jaime Reyes AND HIS MENTOR TED KORD!
Damian Wayne leads the new Teen Titans, by Ben Percy. The Titans apparently aren’t thrilled about this.
Super Sons — no creative team, but “Son of Superman meets son of Batman.”
Justice League of America — “which we can’t talk about yet,” Johns says.

Finally, the full cover of the Rebirth special, by Gary Frank, shows the heres of the DC universe reaching out towards a hand reaching out from the light. It’s intriguing, to say the least.Rebirth special, by Gary Frank, shows the heres of the DC universe reaching out towards a hand reaching out from the light. It’s intriguing, to say the least.

Overall impressions… I’m really liking what I’m seeing. There are some killer creative teams, and some books I can’t believe I’m seeing. Some stuff is outright insane, but in a good way.

You have my attention, DC Comics.

 

 

Three Wishes: DC Rebirth

DC Rebirth In case you somehow missed it, DC Comics recently announced a new upcoming line-wide initiative they’re calling DC Rebirth. Details – except for the titles of the books – have been sparse thus far, but that’s never going to be an obstacle to fan speculation or random guessing. What we know for sure, according to Geoff Johns, is that this initiative will use the same core concept as his Green Lantern: Rebirth and Flash: Rebirth stories, that of attempting to respect the present while, at the same time, recapturing the glory of the past. This has me feeling cautiously optimistic. Both of those aforementioned stories were very good, and I’ve thought ever since the New 52 relaunch that the biggest thing missing from DC was their wonderful sense of legacy.

That optimism in mind – and in a deliberate effort to counteract the Internet Hate Machine that knows for certain that everything will be terrible several months before it has, technically, been created, today’s Three Wishes is dedicated to those elements I hope the DC Universe – whatever shape it takes – will reflect from now on.

  1. Family

OConvergence-Speed Force 1ne of the things the New 52 did was roll back the ages of most of DC’s main characters. In so doing, many of the family units that previously existed were eradicated. The children of Wally West, Roy Harper, Alan Scott and others never existed at all. There was later a hullabaloo when the writers of Batwoman walked off the book, angry that DC wouldn’t allow them to marry off Kate Kane to Maggie Sawyer. Some took this as DC being opposed to gay marriage, which was ludicrous. If they had an anti-gay mindset they never would have published the book in the first place. No, it was any marriage DC was opposed to. The marriages of Lois and Clark, Barry and Iris, Arthur and Mera – all had been annulled in the most literal way possible. Only Animal Man seemed to survive with his family intact, and that is no doubt because virtually every good Animal Man story ever written has included his wife and children at the very core of it.

Even Jonathan and Martha Kent, who had been (mostly) alive since the 1986 Man of Steel reboot, were now both dead in the main DCU. With the sudden dearth of children, spouses, and parents, ironically, Batman now had the most successful family unit in the DC Universe.

There’s some weird notion – not just at DC, not just at Marvel, but in adventure fiction in general – that giving a protagonist a family limits storytelling potential. Think about it, what do you know about Han Solo’s parents? Does Flash Gordon have any brothers or sisters? When they married James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, didn’t they kill off his wife before the movie even ended? How many classic heroes’ adventures end with the hero settling down with a family, or at least implying that this transition is imminent?

Superman-Lois and Clark 2Family is only an obstacle if the writer is narrow-minded enough to make it so. Bill Willingham’s Fables not only went on another 100 issues after the marriage of Snow White and Bigby Wolf, but their cubs became a vital part of the engine of that series. The Fantastic Four has always been about family, but the introduction of Reed and Sue’s children have made it unique among mainstream comics. Perhaps my favorite comic being published right now is Superman: Lois and Clark, precisely because it gives us a Superman in a family dynamic we’ve never seen before. Clark and Lois – those from the Pre-Flashpoint DCU – now live in the current DCU. Nobody knows who they really are, and they have only each other to rely on, while at the same time trying to raise and protect a son who is unaware of his parents’ great secret. It’s wildly fun. We know there will be a post-Rebirth title called The Super-Man. If that acts as the lifeboat for these characters, I’ll be overjoyed.

This is not to say I think every DC character needs to line up to walk down the aisle any time soon. That would be as short-sighted as refusing to let any of them marry. But shouldn’t at least the possibility be allowed to exist? Writers are hired to tell stories, and while some level of editorial control is beneficial, why would you automatically cut off access to any road without at least peering ahead to see where it could lead?

  1. Legacy

Green Lantern Secret Files 1It may seem like a bit of a cheat to use this as my second “wish,” since Geoff Johns has already specifically stated restoring a sense of legacy is one of the goals of Rebirth, but I think it’s worthwhile to explore what exactly that means and what I hope it will mean to DC.

In the New 52 Universe (or Prime Earth, or whatever it’s called these days), Grant Morrison reinstated the notion of the Golden Age that Superman was, in fact, the first superhero. Back in the 30s and 40s it was easy to recognize Superman as being first, as all of the characters were brand new. But as time passed, some of Superman’s allies were retired, then later replaced. When DC brought in a new Flash, a new Green Lantern, a new Atom, but still had the original Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, problems understandably started to crop up. The solution, at the time, was simple: the current versions lived on Earth-1, the originals were on Earth-2. But Crisis on Infinite Earths did away with that in favor of a merged timeline in which Superman ushered in the modern age of heroes, inspired by the Justice Society (sans Superman) of old.

This is the trouble with comic book “elastic time.” Having characters like the JSA so inexorably linked to a real-world event like World War II makes their use increasingly complicated as time goes on. Marvel had this same problem, but to a much lesser extent, because they retired all of their World War II-era heroes, and those that later returned had easy outs to explain their longevity (Captain America was frozen in ice, the Sub-Mariner was a mutant, Stan Lee had the power cosmic, etc.).

Justice Society of America ufV3 1Look, I get the desire to give Superman the significance of being first. He’s earned it. But with a restored multiverse it’s easy to give him that honor while still having a “prime” Superman who lives in a world of earlier heroes. Even if they aren’t currently being featured anywhere, characters like the JSA, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, and the All-Star Squadron are part of the fabric of DC Comics. Removing them from DC’s history robs us just as much as we would be robbed by removing Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin from American history.

And legacy doesn’t work just one way. As rich as DC’s past has been, so too has their future. Yes, I’m talking about the Legion of Super-Heroes. There is no greater testament to Superman and the Justice League than the idea that they will still be inspiring new heroes 1000 years in the future. The Legion needs to return. How? I’m not sure. You won’t find a more devoted group of comic book fans than those who love the Legion, but “devoted” is not, unfortunately, a synonym for “large and with an incredible amount of spending power.” But something needs to be done to Rebirth the Legion into a going concern once again.

  1. Joy

Bizarro 1One of the main complaints levied against DC in recent years – and one that is difficult to argue with – is that the books largely have taken on a grim tone. That’s fine in some cases, but it should never be the case across the board. Sure, Batman lives in darkness, and the members of the Suicide Squad are inherently dirty characters, but that can’t apply to everybody. Superman is, and should be, a symbol of hope. Green Lantern literally makes things out of light. The Flash… hell one of his main foes is a talking gorilla. Be it Jay, Barry, Wally, or other, nobody should enjoy his life more than the fastest man alive.

Dan Didio has gone on record as saying that being a superhero should come at a cost. (This is also largely the rationale for doing away with the families of so many characters.) To a degree, I can agree with that – y’know, the whole “with great power” jazz. But it doesn’t always have to be the same cost, does it? And debts can eventually be paid, except of course for student loans, so why must these characters be burdened with the cost of being a hero for their entire lives?

This was one of the reasons I quit reading Daredevil years ago. While it was unquestionably one of Brian Michael Bendis’s better runs, it eventually became so relentlessly bleak that I just couldn’t take it anymore. “Can’t Matt Murdock ever have a good day?” I would ask of random passerby, who would then look at me funny because Netflix wasn’t a thing yet and they had no idea who I was talking about.

Real life is not in monotone. Nor should be our fiction. In fact, the best fiction of any kind – the most compelling stories and most engaging characters – recognize this. Ask a Futurama fan what the best episode of that series was and, if they can stop crying long enough, they’ll tell you it was “Jurassic Bark.” Scrubs viewers will likewise say one of the show’s most memorable moments came when it was revealed that Dr. Cox’s best friend had died of cancer, and all the wacky hijinks in that episode were the bitter daydreams of a grieving man. But just as comedy is better when there are moments of solemnity, so too are more serious stories served by having rays of light. Few people will deny that Breaking Bad is one of the greatest dramas of the 21st century, but that doesn’t account for how unexpectedly funny it could be. (Just watch it. You’ll never again try to dispose of a body in a bathtub full of acid without giving in to a knowing chuckle.)

Harley Quinn v2 19DC has begun to make strides in this direction. Harley Quinn is a mostly-lighthearted book, as is the new Burnside era of Batgirl. Last year’s Bizarro and Bat-Mite miniseries were both wonderful. But that’s just a start. DC’s most popular media incarnations at the moment are the Flash and Supergirl TV shows – both of which are unabashedly fun – and Arrow, which embraces darkness more fully. And they all work. And they all fit together. And it’s a beautiful thing. The creators of these shows have mined the rich history of the characters for the wonderful things that made them last, while at the same time recognizing that they don’t have to be exactly the same to coexist.

DC TV takes its cues from DC of old. It’s time for DC of today to do the same thing.

Learning the Wrong Lessons From Deadpool

Deadpool Movie PosterIn case you somehow missed it, the Deadpool movie was released last weekend and immediately began shattering box office records: best February opening of all time, best opening ever for an R-rated movie, best opening ever for a first-time director (that’d be Tim Miller), and it came in third in the swimsuit competition. And of course, as always, the movie industry began to thoughtfully and meticulously scrutinize the film’s success to determine what qualities helped it reap the bounty, then implement carefully-considered strategies to create new content that may also be prosperous for the studios.

Ha! I’m kidding, of course. No, the movie studios immediately concluded that the American public wants superhero movies to be full of F-words and Ryan Reynolds’s ass. So today, in what could easily be the first in an infinite series of columns, I would like to discuss how 20th Century Fox – and probably every other major studio – has completely missed the point of what made Deadpool kick butt.

Let’s start with what is probably the least significant part of its success: the timing. Like I said, Deadpool’s $135 million broke the record for the highest February opening of all time. But look at the competition: Zoolander 2, the sequel nobody asked for, and How to Be Single, a movie built around Rebel Wilson playing the only character she ever plays, and who wasn’t even entertaining the first time she did it. That’s not to say Deadpool wasn’t a good movie – in fact, that’s my whole point. January and February, traditionally, have been cinematic graveyards where studios try to bury movies they don’t think anybody will want to see in a season where they don’t think people want to go to the movies. I’ve long believed this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not that people don’t want to go to the movies in February, it’s that the studios don’t give them movies worth watching. Deadpool demonstrates that if you make a movie people want to see, they’ll come out to see it no matter when it is released.

WolverineAnd that brings us to the second question: why was Deadpool a movie people wanted to see? The blood? We have the news for that. The nudity? We have the Internet. The profanity? We have public high schools. All of these are easy answers, and all of these are wrong. And yet, when Fox immediately followed the box office number announcement by saying the third Wolverine movie will be rated R, they’re essentially saying that’s the reason that Deadpool worked. This is incredibly small-minded.

(To be fair, making an R-rated Wolverine was at least under discussion as far back as the first solo movie starring the character. It’s not a new idea. But man, they made sure to let everybody know that after the weekend box office closed, didn’t they?)

The reason those elements worked in Deadpool is because all of the hyper-violence and irreverent dialogue helped to create a tone that is faithful to the character. We didn’t want to see violence, necessarily, we just wanted to see the Deadpool we love. In fact, I’m going to be a little controversial here: I don’t even think Deadpool needed to be an R-rated movie. I don’t mind that it was, I very much enjoyed it, but despite what a lot of people seem to think the majority of his comic book appearances have not been full of F-bombs and boobs. (Sure, the violence is there, but the MPAA is way less concerned with violence than sex or language. Chop off all the limbs you want, but God forbid you show a nipple.)

What are they going to do in an R-rated Wolverine movie that will make it better than the first two? Curse more? The word he’s most associated with in the comics is “bub.” Bury him in naked women? Wolverine’s romantic relationships are classically tortured. Sure the fighting may be more explicit, but does anybody really think X-Men Origins: Wolverine would have been a good movie if only they showed more blood when Hugh Jackman cut off Ryan Reynolds’s head?

Superman the MovieThe best superhero movies (and in fact, most of the best adaptations of any kind) are those that maintain the spirit and feel of the source material: Richard Donner’s Superman, the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, and most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe work for precisely this reason. People who have read about a character for years – decades even – don’t want to see a version of a character whipped up by committee, they want to see the version they love. (This, of course, will cause debate when a character has been around long enough that there are multiple valid interpretations, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

Compare that to the most epic failure of recent years, the 2015 Fantastic Four. The movie takes a comic whose best stories are about a family of explorers and turns them into a militarized unit who barely share any screen time. Director Josh Trank maintains that studio meddling sank his movie. I tend to think that when the director reportedly tells his actors not to read the comics the movie is based on, there isn’t much more a studio can do to screw it up.

Batman-The Killing 1Let’s not forget that tone is dependent on the individual story as well. There was a lot of buzz last year when the producers of the upcoming Batman: The Killing Joke animated movie announced they were given permission by the studio to go for an R-rated film. It doesn’t have to be, but this is the story that forever entrenched the Joker as a true icon of evil. Gone was the bank robbing clown of the Silver Age – now he was a horrific, unhinged psychopath acting out on a twisted fixation with Batman by torturing his friends. It would be hard to tell that story faithfully and still maintain a PG-13. But that doesn’t mean a Ben Affleck Batman movie or an animated version of the first appearance of Bat-Mite should suddenly be rated R.

All of this is to say that, yes, you probably could make a good R-rated Wolverine movie, but it won’t be good because it’s rated R. The other elements need to be there too.

But what about all of the people who enjoyed Deadpool but don’t read comics? They don’t know if the depiction on screen is faithful to the comic book, and most of them wouldn’t care if they did. So why did they come out in force to see this movie? For one thing, of course, the marketing campaign was as brilliant as the marketing for John Carter was abysmal, but good marketing will only get you so far. People also liked the movie. Why? Obviously, the answer for each individual person will differ, but if I were to venture a guess for the majority, I would say it’s because it’s something different. Look, I would be perfectly happy all day long if they just took the scripts of my favorite comics and put them on screen in front of me, but I also know I’m a 10th-level nerd and what I want probably doesn’t apply to the public at large.

Spider-Man BittenWhat does apply, however, is that people get tired of seeing the same thing. Origin stories, for example. Not just comic fans, but viewers in general are done with origin stories. Nobody needs to see Krypton blow up, Thomas and Martha Wayne gunned down, or Peter Parker bitten by a spider ever again. We get it.

Even with less iconic characters, origin stories are largely unnecessary at this point. If a character in a movie is a cop, a firefighter, or a baseball player, people don’t demand we spend half the movie explaining how we get to that point before the real plot begins. Granted, superheroes follow a less conventional path than those other occupations, but at this point the public is familiar enough with the tropes that all but the most convoluted of origins can usually be dealt with in a quick flashback or a few lines of expository dialogue.

“But Blake,” you say, “Deadpool was an origin movie. Doesn’t that contradict your point?” Man, you can be kind of a jerk sometimes. But no, it doesn’t contradict my point. I said that origins are unnecessary, not that they can’t be done well. Audiences – myself included – will accept even the most tired premise if the execution is entertaining and original enough.

M Payoff 1shtAnd that brings me to the most important part of Deadpool’s success. It didn’t matter that it was an origin, because it still felt different from any other superhero movie of the last 17 years. (I consider the modern era of superhero movie to have begun with 1999’s Blade. You know, that other R-rated Marvel movie everybody seems to have forgotten about.) Look at the major successes since then. After the first few years, when superheroes were still a novelty, the biggest movies all brought something new to the table. Iron Man was cocky, witty, and did away with that secret identity jazz right away. It was unique at the time. What’s more, the after-credits stinger (another novelty in 2008) opened the doors for the then-revolutionary Marvel Cinematic Universe. That eventually led to Avengers, another mega-hit, because we had never before seen six superheroes from four different movies come together as a team. The best movies of the eight years since Iron Man all bring something different to the superhero. Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a political thriller. The Dark Knight was an epic crime drama. And none of them – even the ones that were sequels to other movies – felt like anything else we had ever seen.

SuicideSquadPoster-181c2In an odd way, this actually makes Suicide Squad the most interesting superhero movie for the rest of 2016. I’m the most die-hard Superman fan you’ll find, and I’ve been waiting to see him on screen with Batman and Wonder Woman since I learned how to read. I couldn’t be more excited for that movie. But Suicide Squad is the first time, as far as I can remember, that a superhero movie has actually starred the villains. (You could make an argument for Magneto and Mystique in the most recent X-Men movies, but the moral ambiguity in those films is so thick that nobody could hear you anyway.) We’ve seen villain-starring comics plenty of times, but it’s never really happened on screen. That means the success or failure of this movie will be one for the books. The trailer was very well-received and people seem to be excited about it.

Which means the weekend after it comes out, expect Fox to announce a new X-Factor movie, starring the classic line-up of Sabertooth, Omega Red, Lady Deathstrike, Toad, and Galactus. Because they just don’t seem to get it.

Three Wishes: LEGO Dream Sets

Welcome to Three Wishes, one of several new semi-regular features I intend to start putting in rotation here at AllNewShowcase.com. In Three Wishes, I’m going to choose a theme and then give a list of three things I’d like to see happen – products made, TV shows or movies produced, comic book dream teams, whatever. And I’m going to start with both one of my oldest and one of my newest obsessions: LEGO.

LEGOs

Like most of you reading this, I loved LEGO as a child. And, like most of you reading this, as I got older I wound up putting it aside in favor of other pursuits. In recent years, though, I’ve drifted back. There’s something about building a LEGO model that’s very cathartic. I think it scratches the same itch as those “adult coloring books” that are so popular now – it allows you to do something creative while at the same time (if you’re following instructions) not requiring you to put any really heavy mental effort into it. Plus, it’s just fun to watch a miniature version of something awesome come together through the effort of your own two hands.

I’m old enough that, when my halcyon days of LEGO ended, they had not yet started branching out beyond their own themes to licensed properties. In fact, many credit the licenses for taking LEGO from the brink of death to being the largest company in the world that specializes in only one kind of toy. They first began by licensing Star Wars and Harry Potter, and have spread out to licenses as diverse as Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Scooby-Doo, The Simpsons, and Doctor Who. What’s more, with the LEGO Ideas program, anybody can design a LEGO model and submit it for consideration to be possibly manufactured as a LEGO set. So that in mind, any one of the sets I’m about to propose could theoretically be made real, if a talented designer submitted it. Sadly, I’m not that person. I’ve got no skill for design. I’m just a builder and a fan. Here, in no particular order, are the three sets I would most like to see created, if money and licensing issues were no factor.

DC Special Series 26Wish #1: Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.

LEGO has set a precedent for huge builds with their 3800-piece Death Star and 4600-piece Ghostbuster Firehouse. With the recent announcement of a gargantuan Batman ’66 Batcave, Superman’s Fortress seems the next logical step.

But which version, then, should it be? The Fortress has gone through many, many incarnations, from the original Earth-2 mountaintop retreat to the Silver Age arctic classic with the giant yellow key. Neither of those would be particularly challenging to build, however, so I propose the exterior be based on the crystalline look that originated in the 1978 Superman: The Movie, and which has informed many of the redesigns since then. It would look amazing, but with the crystals all at strange angles, it would take some clever engineering to make real. Ah heck. Throw in the giant key anyway.

Fortress Mortal KombatInside, we need all the best parts of the Fortress from the assorted varieties: the crystal control panel, the statues of Jor-El and Lara, and the cosmic zoo (complete with a few alien animals, like the metal-eater). But a LEGO set isn’t just about construction, it’s also about playability. We need some characters. Superman, of course, should be included, as well as the Fortress’s other part-time resident, Supergirl. We could also include Lois Lane in arctic gear, a Superman robot or two, and Kal-El’s robotic valet, Kelex. And you can’t have a superhero playset without villains, can you? Coincidentally, the two best battles ever to take place in the Fortress both come from stories by Alan Moore. I would throw in Brainiac and Lex Luthor from “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” (bonus points if they can make the figures combine), and a maxifigure of Mongul with the Black Mercy flower from “For the Man Who Has Everything.” Alan Moore would probably despite seeing a toy set inspired by his stories, which of course is the best argument to release it.

Money BinWish #2: Scrooge McDuck’s Money Bin

Although LEGO has had many Disney Licenses (including the Marvel Super-Heroes, Star Wars, the Lone Ranger, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Disney Princesses), as far as I know the classic Disney characters have never appeared in LEGO form, although I think a few of them have adorned LEGO’s line for younger builders, DUPLO. With a new DuckTales cartoon scheduled to premiere next year, it’s time for that to change. Although the mass-market version of Scrooge’s iconic money bin couldn’t be as detailed as the fan-made version that turned up online some time ago, there’s still plenty of room for play. Scrooge’s office should be a segment, along with a display for his number-one dime, as well as his famous worry room. The exterior should have a variety of hidden traps (which would be particularly fun to build) to ward off thieves. And of course, there’s the money vault itself: a large open section with a diving board and a bag of loose gold-colored one-peg flat pieces to pour in the center so that Scrooge can dive in and swim around.

Money Bin InteriorSpeaking of Scrooge, he wouldn’t be alone in minifig land. He’d be accompanied by his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, as well as his ward Webigail. (Look, I know she’s not everyone’s favorite character, but there just weren’t enough females on that show, and we need her.) For villains, we’d have Ma Beagle and her Beagle Boys attempting to break in.

I’ll cheat a little on this wish and say that I’d love to see this expand to an entire line of DuckTales LEGO sets: Gyro Gearloose’s shop with Gyro, his helper, and whatever apocalyptic invention he’s whipping up that week; ace pilot Launchpad McQuack and his plane; and a Battle For Duckburg set with villains Flintheart Glomgold and Magica DeSpell vs. Scrooge’s accountant Fenton Crackshell and his buildable Gizmoduck armor.

Water TowerWish #3: The Warner Brothers’ (and the Warner Sister) Water Tower

If you don’t know that I loved the 90s cartoon show Animaniacs, you don’t really know me all that well. Perhaps the best animated series of the last two decades, I want to see a Water Tower set complete with Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. Although he’s not really an enemy, we also need Ralph the Guard trying to catch them, along with Dr. Scratchansniff and Hello Nurse. It would be easy to throw cameo Animaniacs characters in too – perch some Goodfeathers on the side of the tower, have Rita and Runt roaming on the ground, and so on.

But a Water Tower seems like a kind of simple, almost boring build. That ends when you open it up, to find one of the most ridiculously complicated LEGO builds ever to branch out from the Technic line. Inside the tower we’d find one of Wakko’s insane Rube Goldberg-style devices, with one feature activating the next over and over until it finally triggers a comically underblown finale, as in the episode where he did exactly that simply to make a fart noise with a whoopee cushion. Ah Wakko, you genius.

Some may notice that I neglected to mention two of the most popular characters from Animaniacs in this wish. I didn’t forget, guys. But come on – Pinky and the Brain and ACME Labs deserve their own separate build.

That’s it for Three Wishes. Please feel free to chime in with your own ideas for dream LEGO sets, or to suggest topics for future Three Wishes installments!