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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Comics Talk: 5 Reasons to be Excited About DC: Rebirth.

Working with the grateful assistance of Zed Bees Comic Universe in Edenvale, South Africa (more on them in a bit), I've decided to shake things up a bit on this here blog by introducing a new, semi-regular comics column. I'll be reviewing both the latest comics and a bunch of classic reads that are, usually, easy to find in collected form; taking a look at standout comics and graphic novels that will be coming out in a few months time (usually from the latest Previews) and talking about general trends and goings-on in the industry.

A few points to keep in mind, though. First, I hope to publish this column as often as possible but like all the writing I do primarily for fun, it will inevitably take a back seat to any paid work I have going at the time. With so (hopefully consistent but) decidedly haphazard a schedule, I'm also going to forego any sense of real order or specific plans; opting instead to talk about whatever is on my mind on any given day - though, hopefully, it will still be very much of interest to established fans and newbies alike. 

Most crucially, though, unlike my movie reviews, this column will be dedicated, as much as humanly possible, to the good, great and wonderful sides of comics as an artform and industry. Part of this has to do with my limited schedule but mostly it's because comics are faced with so much negativity - both online and in the real world - that I really just want to shine a warm, utterly positive light on what has been one of my favourite art forms since I was a kid. 

In terms of focus, Image Comics is going to crop up time and time again as they are easily my favourite publisher right now and I have always been more of a DC guy than a Marvel Zombie but all publishers, both big and small, will be up for discussion. And, no, I have no intention of superheroes dominating the discussion. I mean, honestly, at this point, they're covered pretty well in the ever increasing amount of superhero films out each year that I will, of course, continue to review in my usual role as film critic. And, of course, speaking of movies, I won't be dealing with the movies here at all and may only include the occasional look at original animated movies like the Killing Joke and the extensive line-up of comics-related TV shows. This column is about comics and that is where my focus will remain.       

Finally, a quick word about our "sponsor". Zed Bees has been my primary comics store for years and, more than anything else, I just want to give them something of a shout out for their consistently excellent service; knowledgeable and friendly staff and - for what is basically a small store - a nice selection of (usually relatively mainstream) titles. With the sheer amount of stuff that comes out every month, it's admittedly impossible for them to carry everything out there but they can order pretty much anything you want - from major Marvel and DC titles to obscure indies. And, as is the case with every comic book shop on the planet, pre-ordering is your friend if you want to avoid disappointment. Last but certainly not least, in the past year or so with the value of the South African Rand plummeting against the US Dollar, Zed Bees have gone out of their way to keep the prices down as much as humanly possible: presumably at some cost to their own profit. This level of dedication to their customers puts them way over the top and makes it a pleasure to support them. Be sure to check them out if you live even remotely nearby.

I should probably also reiterate at this point that all opinions in these columns are mine and mine alone and don't neccessarily represent what Zed Bees or its employees think on these matters.

With that very, very long intro out of the way (I promise to keep them short in the future), onto my first column - which promises to challenge many of the points I made in this neverending preamble...

Won't Get Fooled Again? 5 Reasons to Be Excited About DC Rebirth

Aside for outliers like the terrifically entertaining Flash or Supergirl TV shows and the odd well-received comics title (Batgirl, Batman, usually something Bat-related), DC has been floundering for longer than they would care to admit. Man of Steel and, most especially, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice proved, quite decisively, that they're a very long way from Marvel in terms of their cinematic output - be it critically, commercially or, with all due respect to their few very vocal supporters, with the fans themselves. Shockingly, though, their comics line has been, if anything, even worse.

It's tempting to just lay all the blame on their New 52 relaunch, which, despite a promising start, ultimately ended up losing long-time fans at a far greater rate than they were able to bring in new readers. And, make no mistake, few exceptions aside, the New 52 was a terrible mess that did much to rob their fictional universe of much that made it great in the first place (legacy, history, brightly coloured fun), while at the same time utterly squandering any of the freshness or stripped-down simplicity that a line-wide reboot should have all but guaranteed. To be honest, though, problems had been brewing at DC for far longer than that. The New 52 was actually a reaction to a couple of years of the company failing to deliver on the momentum built by the many excellent comics that came from DC in the late '90s through the mid-2000s.

So, here we are again, promised a newly improved DC Comics (the movies are a whole other thing - though getting rid of Zack Snyder would be a fine start) by the same guys who have been running the company through some of its darkest days. It's all too easy to be skeptical, if not outright cynical, about anything that Jim Lee, Dan Didio and Geoff Johns have to say these days but let's go against the grain here and take a look at the five things about DC: Rebirth that may actually work. It's kind of about time that something does.

5) Aesthetic improvements. This might seem like a small thing but for a visual medium like comics, what the characters look like is actually very important. The New 52, as mostly designed by Jim Lee, featured costumes that took the worst of the '90s, blended it with ill-judged cross-media-promotion and then drew random squiggles all over the result. They still aren't returning most of their characters to their original and usually best costumes but they have moved solidly in the right direction, with Superman and Red Robin benefitting especially.

4) Holding the line. DC have once again pledged to return their line to $2.99, which not only puts the horribly overpriced Marvel Comics in their place but makes it more affordable to read even DC's 17 twice-monthly comics. Speaking of double shipping, though I'm hardly a fan of such a practice, at least DC are keeping their prices down and their page-count up with each issue still containing 20 story pages a piece and, most importantly, they do seem to actually have a plan in place to deal with the increased publishing schedule by dedicating two art teams to all their twice-monthly books. Also, in some cases at least (well, Wonder Woman), the creators are actually using the increased publication schedule for storytelling purposes.

3) Great and interesting creators on some intriguing books. I probably don't have to point out some of the less impressive teams that they have lined up for their books - it's kind of inevitable at this point - but there are both a bunch of really promising looking titles coming out, as well as established favourites with some promising creators attached. Everyone has their favourites, no doubt, but my top three most looked-forward to books include Greg Rucka's return to Wonder Woman, Keith Giffen writing a Blue Beetle book starring both Ted Kord and Jaime Reyes and Detective Comics returning to its original numbering and being repositioned as a Bat-team book, including some of my favourite Batman-related characters. And, fortunately, these aren't the only three titles that look promising. Gerard Way's early-Vertigo-like Young Animals line of comics looks especially promising - and I'm sure I'll take a closer look at them closer to their actually being released.

2) A step in the right direction. A very important one, this. Geoff Johns has reiterated that Rebirth is only the beginning and that they're going to be rolling out a systematic and deliberate reconfiguration of their comics line over the next year. In other words, rather than just repeating their past mistakes of jumping head first into a line-wide reboot, they seem to be going in with a bit more of a plan here; one that will actually allow them a chance to course correct if the need arrives. Here's hoping they learn from their past mistakes by relaxing their oft-reported editorial stronghold over their creators as well.  

1) Legacy. The biggest blow to the DC Universe by the New 52 was in its wiping out of the sense of history and legacy that was such a terrific, integral aspect of this fictional universe since - at the very least - Crisis on Infine Earths rebooted their line back in the mid-80s. There are more examples of this than I care to enumerate but the ultimate case in point is Wally West - the third character to wear the mantle of the Flash. Created just a few months after Barry Allen debuted as the Flash in the mid-1950s, Wally represented everything great about the history and legacy of the DC Universe as he went from being Barry's sidekick Kid Flash to taking over his mantle when he died in Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was followed by years of organic maturation where he not only finally was able to stand (well, run) proudly in his predecessors shoes but, in some ways at least, even surpassed him. This wonderful character progression was already eroded by the return of Barry Allen to DC proper during Final Crisis but the New 52 wiped this Wally West from existence and replaced him with, frankly, a random black kid who bears his name and little else.

Without getting into the ethical and political minefield of randomly changing a character's race (and I really do believe that in a few years we'll look back at this kind of pathetic attempt at "diversity", rather than, ya know, creating new and original diverse characters, as at best desperate, at worst seriously insulting), the real problem was that they erased both the "real" Wally West and showed a real contempt for one of DC's central selling points.        

The good news is that not only is a the major mission statement of Rebirth to return legacy and history to their comics, there are plenty of indications that the real Wally West may finally return to their comics.

And that is almost reason enough to stay positive about the whole thing.

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