Monday, December 28, 2009

Comics: This is the Year that Wuz

There's an old Doonesbury strip from the Carter administration, how the Energy Czar declared the energy crisis to be over. After all, if you've gotten used to the new status quo, it can hardly be a crisis, can it? And there was much celebration.

That's sort of the way its been within main-universe continuity for the major comic companies this year, though they handle it in very different ways. DC has been trudging through an endless Blackest Night while Marvel has been actually using the Dark Reign mega event for some interesting open-ended world and character development.

Blackest Night first, which has felt like an interminable evening where the dead heroes and villains rise and are equipped with black lantern rings (every color has its own jewelry, these days) and challenge the living. Originally part of a mega-crisis over in the Lantern books, it has spilled over into the rest of the continuity, and though the plastic finger-ware they've been offering is nice (I have a full set hanging on the horns of my Galactus figure), two things become apparent.

1) When you strip the color, insignia, and facial expressions from a comic book character, it is devilishly hard to figure out who is who. Everyone is grey and black, they have the insignia of the Black Lantern Corps, and they have zombie faces. So unless they are wearing, say, a cowboy hat, you don't know who these guys are. Oh, also the fact that they may have been dead, in continuity for several years makes matters worse. And furthermore:

2) We have one story here, as far as the tie-ins are concerned. We open with a couple pages of flashback to remind us WHO this dead character is, then sics the dead character on the living, who defeats (or at least ties) the dead character at the end (for an unstoppable, regenerating menace, there seem to be a lot of ways to stop them). Not since the "Red-Skies" tie-ins of the original crisis ("Look, Batman! The sky is red!""No time for that, chum, the Riddler is on the loose!") have the tie-ins taken such an obvious route.

So it is thundering along for a while, as important things happen in the main title, and eventually Bruce (Batman) Wayne will be back (Oh, like you're surprised).

Over at Marvel, the Dark Reign starts with a seemingly equally iffy proposition. In the wake of the Skrull War Norman Osborn is put in charge of SHIELD, an idea almost as stupid as making Tony Stark the Secretary of Defense (oh, wait a minute...). Anyway, the former Green Goblin puts together his own illuminati of villains, with the idea that, now they have power, they aren't going to lose it.

Normally this sort of thing may be a couple issues, and the villains always lose it by overstepping their bounds and everyone realizes the heroes are cool and everything snaps back into place. But they've been going is some interesting directions with it, such that the original mob has broken up, so Osborn has recruited a new mob, Dr. Doom has been renovated back into a first class bad guy, and parts of the Marvel U that are usually kept apart are being brought back together. And at the heart of it has been the Avengers family of books, which has dealt with fake Avengers, rebel Avengers, and new Avengers (which feel decidedly West Coast in nature).

Problems? Yep. There are a couple plots that played over and over -
- There is a challenge that requires fake Avengers to fight alongside real heroes, and no one dies.
- Norman Osborn gets punked.
- One of the heroes is captured by Norman Osborn, and Must Be Rescued!
- The Sentry, created as the latest Marvel Superman Clone (see: Wonder Man, Gladiator, et al) and retrofitted into their continuity, continues to get slapped about with amazing regularity. The best Sentry story was actually an X-Men tale (what did I say about parts of the universe working together) and does not even feature the Sentry, only his supposed Dark Half.

Oh, and Steve (Captain America) Rogers is back (in a badly bungled return in which he is showing up in regular books before his "return" comic is completed). Comic book inertia rivals gravity when it comes to pulling all the pieces back together again.

But in general, there is a lot more life and opportunities in the Marvel Universe crisis than in the DC version. A lot of writers over at the MU were confronted with the new bag of apples and made new types of applesauce, while at DC we saw the same recipe again and again.

There have also been some major behind the scenes things in comics in the past year. Disney has bought Marvel (which probably will have less of an effect on the continuity), while over at DC, long-term veteran writer and president Paul Levitz was replaced by someone from within the Warner hierarchy (which probably WILL have more of an effect on mainline continuity).

And yet the biggest behind the scenes thing in comics is something that I'm not sure is official, but it feels like it. I think the comic book companies have switched up how they figure profitability of their books. Instead of looking for a particular title to deliver X number of sales, they are looking for a particular week to deliver the required numbers. That would explain the sudden explosion of one-shots, bookends, miniseries, hiatuses, secondary stories, and other stunts that have showed up recently. I'm not 100% sure if I am right about this, but it sure feels that way. Which again, will have more of an effect on continuity than we assume.

More later,