Thursday, June 02, 2011

Reboot Madness! Everything Must Change!

Sure enough, right after I posted my concerns about the reboot the news went up about the next ten series that are getting rebooted. They seem very nonthreatening. I've already made some buy choices.

Of course, barring Dave Sim (and honestly, I think I'd pick that up just to see how fucked up it was) or Frank Miller I knew I'd be getting Wonder Woman. I had my fingers crossed for Grant Morrison, but DC handed the pen to someone else:

New York Times bestselling writer Brian Azzarello, author of The Joker and 100 Bullets, teams up with the immensely talented artist Cliff Chiang (Neil Young’s Greendale) for WONDER WOMAN #1, an exciting new series starring the DC Universe’s greatest superheroine. The cover to issue #1 is by Cliff Chiang.

Right away my heart sank. A lot of the big problems with Wonder Woman seem to derive from this ridiculous idea that she needs more of an edge. (I suppose being the personal enemy of the God of War and Violence himself just isn't impressive enough.) Brian Azzarello is known for 100 Bullets and just having the dark, edgy element to his stuff. No only that, bloodied sword on the cover.

But... Rucka was known for edgy street crime, and he was one of the best. The complaints I've heard about Azzarello's women seem to stem from bashing the supporting cast around, so a franchise like Wonder Woman that is purposefully gender-swapped might shake up his habits a little.

He's written Wonder Woman before in Superman #210-211, and David had some reassuring things to say about that. It's been a long time since I've read any of For Tomorrow (I only remember some heavy bondage with Kyle Rayner), but it's one of three Azzarello series on Comixology so as soon as I get my account straightened out I'll check the Wonder Woman parts out for myself. A couple people have recommended Doctor Thirteen so I've ordered that out of curiosity.

Not that not liking any of this will stop me from getting the next Wonder Woman origin retelling. I freaking love that story, and this is a character I usually give anyone a chance with.

Also, that is the best the pants have looked yet.

The other surprise I got was a Mr. Terrific solo series, just as I was worrying about the character's fate:

The world’s third-smartest man – and one of its most eligible bachelors – uses his brains and fists against science gone mad in MISTER TERRIFIC #1, the new series from writer Eric Wallace and artist Roger Robinson. The cover to issue #1 is by J.G. Jones.
Not familiar with the creative team, but I will be checking out the first issue unless someone drops something ridiculous in the lead-up interviews.

In the meantime, I'm relieved to see Johns leave the Flash:

Rising superstar Francis Manapul, fresh off his acclaimed run on THE FLASH with Geoff Johns, makes his comics writing debut in THE FLASH #1, sharing both scripting and art duties with Brian Buccellato. The Flash knows he can’t be everywhere at once, but what happens when he faces an all-new villain who can? The cover to issue #1 is by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato.
I'm unfamiliar with Bucellato but I'll definitely give Manapul's writing a shot for his art.

On the maybe pile I have JLI and Justice League. Johns and Lee are setting the stage for everything and Justice League used to be one of my staples, but I'm honestly getting tired of those creators. Lopresti on JLI is solid, and I like the lineup but I'm still deliberating on Jurgens. He's hit and miss for me.

In the meantime, Yan's keeping a list of books and creative teams as they get officially announced in case someone wants a scored.

All right, the serious reaction to the reboot.

J. Michael Straczynski:
When Dan DiDio comes out to the West Coast, we tend to get a bite for dinner to discuss projects, ideas, books and just hang. Dan is a great guy and an energetic speaker, chockful of ideas and aspirations for DC. As part of that, he shared repeatedly on and off for really more than a year his dream of rebooting the DCU and starting over.

So I felt confident that it was coming soon (which is one reason why I felt there wouldn't be a problem in the long run leaving the monthly books, since most of the things done in Superman and Wonder Woman would be erased by the reboot anyway, so ultimately it didn't matter whether I stayed or left. I just couldn't say anything at the time because I wanted to respect Dan's privacy and his desire to do what he thought was right when he thought it was right to do it.

To a degree, I think the success of Superman: Earth One was very helpful in showing that you could reboot a major character in a very personal sort of book and have it become a real hit (27 straight weeks and counting on the New York Times Bestseller List for graphic novels).


Yeah, I feel so much better knowing you planned your big Wonder Woman storyline from the start with the attitude of "It won't count anyway." (That pisses me off more than anything. Who cares if it counts? It needs to be worth reading. I've said some bad things about JMS's writing but I didn't have him pegged for the Cult of Continuity before. I'd assumed he'd at least TRY to do his best work whether a reboot loomed or not.)

In all seriousness, this makes it seem like they're serious and it's not just another mass retcon frenzy in the midst of the continuing storyline. In that case, it is remarkably brave, especially since they've clung to the continuity-focused stories as their main events for so long.

I'm trying to keep an open mind here because it could be pretty good, but really whether or not this works all depends on what they're willing to put in at the beginning through the launch. The DCU started out as an all-white, assumed straight, mostly male universe and slowly evolved to something more inclusive. It didn't become perfect, but it had stuff that we liked and a lot of those characters are dependent on being somewhere down the timeline. We know from the last few years that very few of the diverse characters are prioritized. Unless they consciously try to include them at the starting point, changing the company story to be genuinely diverse from the start and not just giving lip service in the form of one white woman and one black guy (both established as straight) in the Justice League, we're going to have to wait a while until the appeal comes back.

I don't doubt that if characters like Todd Rice, Cass Cain, Kyle Rayner, Michael Holt, Ryan Choi and others are neglected in the first wave they'll all return in some fashion after time passes, but it could take a long while. They'll need writers who remember them and want to use them. Their origins will have to be redone in order to use them and fit them into the universe. More waiting on the part of the fans that see themselves in these characters.

I'm not ready to completely write off a chance we'll have a more diverse universe than we do now, but things look bleak. If Didio had gotten to do this 5 or 6 years ago when they were creating characters like Ryan, Jaime and Kate I'd be more optimistic. I don't know who's pushing what and what personnel changes brought on what we've seen since around Blackest Night, but things aren't as hopeful in this area as before. (Also, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with Geoff Johns having the first word on Star Sapphire.)

Once again, it all comes down to wait and see. This is a tremendous opportunity for them. I'm hopeful for Wonder Woman, I'll check out Green Lantern, I'll definitely look into whatever they've put my favorite writers on, but my expectations aren't particularly high overall here.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Deja vu all over again

So.. anyone hear any big news this week?

Okay, these rumors have been flying for quite a bit and as we've know that Wonder Woman was likely to get a complete reboot I was mentally prepared anyway. Really, what with Green Lantern Corps #60 I was anxious for one for Green Lantern. A full universe-wide reboot is a great way to undo all of those deaths they SHOULD have undone in Blackest Night (but somehow forgot to), and clear some of the ickier circumstances out of their product. They can bring back Ralph and Sue and Ryan Choi and Mogo and Katma and Hawkgirl and so on. Then they can weave together the stories from the start and make wise use of their character stable. At the very least, if they're out of ideas they can kill the next few years reintroducting all the characters again from the starting point. It's a great opportunity.

Or it could be, if they have the brains to do it right or the guts to do it all the way.

Blackest Night gives us reason to doubt they'll introduce a diverse cast from the ground up.

They also plan to keep some of the continuity. Heaven only knows what this means for sure, because a proper linewide reboot would mean everyone goes back to the same spot and there is no continuity. Possibly September is just Origin Month and we get back to business in October. They'll use those #1 issues to set out what the new character history is and/or setup the new storyline. Some continuity will change, some fat will be trimmed, but a lot of stuff will be the same. New series will be launched, old series will be cancelled.

Hmm... Where have we seen this before?

No, not there. That was half-assed, but they are organized now. Getting them all on the same track in one month. Real jumping on points for new readers. Hell, they may not actually reboot, they may just fudge the backstories.

Hmm... Nope. Not that either. We're beyond rumors and they said it was changing the past rather than jumping ahead. Also, they're renumbering. Granted, they might just renumber September's issues and go back to normal the next month for some series... Oh!

That's the one.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Flashpoint: Is This Event Over Yet?

So I hadn't seen this before.

Okay, we've been through the whole Flashpoint rant a few times already. I do not like this angle for the Amazons, and I think it undercuts Diana's character. With Amazons Attack, it was stupid but I was open to the "mystically manipulated" idea and figured it wouldn't hurt the franchise.

I guess I was wrong, because it seems someone liked that idea and decided they should try it again in an alternate timeline. And now someone will like the idea and decide they should try it again. Because they don't get Wonder Woman. They don't understand how women can withdraw from men and not spend all of their time thinking about men, holding a grudge against men, and plotting to come out and hurt/maim/kill men. They don't get that women might spend their lives away from men and be perfectly happy and not obsessed with men in some way.

They don't get that the point of Wonder Woman is that sexism in our society was holding women back, and that Diana is what a woman who had never suffered institutionalized sexism can be. Instead, Wonder Woman only makes sense if she's lopping off heads and ranting about how terrible men are. For franchise purity, she has to have the moral high ground in her own book but when it comes to crossovers all bets seem to be off.

I know that this is an alternate universe and it won't really immediately affect how she's portrayed in her own book.

I know that the whole point of this timeline is that everything has gone horribly wrong and the heroes (which, coincidentally, don't seem to include Wonder Woman) will have to set it right.

I know that this cover is just there to get us riled up and they probably have an explanation inside that will make Diana sympathetic.

That doesn't make this crossover and everything released about Wonder Woman in it sound any less stupid.

Here's the thing, the best alternate universe storylines are the ones that show us the true measure of the characters. They're the ones that show us that the characters will remain true to their core characteristics in different circumstances.

There's a quote running around somewhere that Batman wasn't changed much because the audience wouldn't accept it. I can pretty much guarantee that Superman will be the same sort of person he always has been. Same for Hal, because they are building up the Green Lantern franchise around him. And of course, Barry will remain Barry because he's the centerpiece here.

For some reason, Diana is getting remade to be much more violent, though. And that suggests to me that they feel the core characteristics of Wonder Woman are her warrior characteristics, and that her kinder nature is only due to circumstances.

To me, that's bullshit. The very first act that this character performed in publication history is an act of mercy. The very first thing that Diana does in All-Star Comics #8 is to save someone from a plane crash. It is an action repeated in every retcon of her origin up until this idiotic JMS reboot. She has a friend with her usually, but it's always Diana's idea to go help the guy. It is an essential part of her origin and the first character trait that was established in her very first appearance. She is merciful.

And not only that, that someone is a man. She's heard nothing about men except that they were violent, enslaved her people, and that they retreated to the island to live in peace from them. She's raised to think that this person will try to hurt her even after she helps him, but she still does. Her instinct to be heroic and merciful is overwhelming. If she does not have that, if that is not a prominent trait, then that is not Wonder Woman.

Really, every depiction at odds with that as her true nature muddies the waters of a character that a lot of people don't seem to know/understand to begin with. People complain that WW is a cipher, a physical presence, a cardboard character and that's because anytime she's outside her own book the writers seem to ignore that she has very specific character traits that were laid out in her appearance. They ignore that her warrior aspects are tempered by mercy and reason. They do this because it's kewler to have her collecting heads than demonstrating a clear head.

A few minutes before I saw this I had been answering a comment on the other day's Steve Trevor post. I was explaining how Steve was more important to the mythos than Batman's first love interest, and this whole Flashpoint thing came to mind. Because with Steve around, we have a reminder that Diana's first act was an act of mercy. We have the basis for her opinion on men standing right by her. We have a guy around that is there because not only did she save him, she actually nursed him back to health and hid him from the rest of her people so he'd be safe.

Steve Trevor is a walking talking example of how good a person Wonder Woman is at heart. And that, more than a desire to see romantic stories around Wonder Woman, more than an affection of the character, is why I feel it's so important they bring him back.

Because this may be another big fakeout, but they are slowly moving towards it crossover by crossover. They are losing Wonder Woman in this, as each event they make her just a little more like the Punisher.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

What does she see in that man?

First, an enjoyable diversion that hopefully won't be pulled anytime soon. Then on to the business of expressing a pretty complex opinion.

The biggest thing I see among fans that irks me is the insistence that Wonder Woman be paired with another costumed hero like Superman (in the letter columns and the freaking 90s Elseworlds) or Batman (since the cartoon series set them up a ratehr dedicated fandom has surfaced). Worse than the fans, this is a trend among writers, who gave her a crush on Clark in the 80s (this was their way of establishing she wasn't lesbian or asexual, I suppose, since the 80s reboot got rid of all the female characters she could have been paired up with as well as getting rid of Steve), a dozen alternate universe stories where she marries Clark in the 90s, and a relationship with Batman in 2000s JLA that is so important that it saves her from the Black Lantern in their company crossover (I will never let this go. Ever.) but is never mentioned in her or his book.

Now, a lot of us object to this based purely on franchise integrity. Wonder Woman dating Batman or Superman makes her into one of their supporting characters. It's not right, and she should be treated on equal terms with them but the writers, editors and most importantly the marketers clearly favor both men over her. Until we can replace Warner Bros execs with doppelgangers who love Wonder Woman boardroom fights over Superman and Wonder Woman or Batman and Wonder Woman will end with her getting the shaft.

But my objection to these two relationships and my insistence on bringing back Steve Trevor does go further than franchise integrity. It's all about character background, masculinity and femininity, and the underlying theme of Wonder Woman. Consider if you will, the classic origin story.

Despite some variation (particularly with Kanigher, but he seems to have soft-retconned the classic origin back in when he really got to writing), most writers stick to her saving a downed pilot. This is the first man she's ever seen. He's usually half-drowned and horribly injured from the crash. She cares for him and sees him at his most vulnerable. While he's helpless, sometimes delirious, and in the cases when she hides him (Martston, Kanigher's later retcon) completely dependent on her for survival. Even when he's lucid (Kanigher's first story, Conway), he's still defenseless and has no control over what happens to him. She has to rescue and protect him.

She notices early on that he's pretty attractive. Even as a complete wreck, waterlogged and injured he is absolutely gorgeous. That's the basis for the initial attraction, but with some writers there's a little bit more. Pre-Crisis Diana knew English somehow (magic TV or there's Amazons that were shipwrecked English-speakers or Hermes willed it--she also knew Caveman language in the Silver Age). In one of the Golden Age origin retellings (I can't find it right now), Steve's delirious and babbling about the war, how his people are fighting a great evil, and how he swears he sees an angel. In the Silver Age, the first version has him telling her he doesn't see the difference between an Amazon and an angel, and then ridiculously offer to fight off sharks while she gets away. Later he shows up leading a charity outing for underprivileged kids. Both cases, he says something while helpless that demonstrates he's brave and selfless, he admires her, and he's community minded.

She decides she's attracted to him based on him being beautiful. Sometimes she gets to factor in that he says nice things about her and cares for others above his own well-being despite being absolutely helpless. Not exactly a lot to go on but I'm sure you all do a background check and require them to accomplish three quests before you'll approach an attractive stranger in a bar.

Later on we see that he's the sort of guy who tells the villain it doesn't matter what they do to him, they'll never beat Wonder Woman. Other times we see he can be gentle and thoughtful and takes care of her emotionally. He's also brave and honest. He has some very attractive qualities that are present whether he's shooting out the lock on her prison door or he's lying in her arms recovering from a recent blow to the head. He's passively desirable. It's not things he does that interest her, it's inherent qualities that show through at his weakest moments whether they're superficial like his appearance or the truest expression of his courage like laughing in the face of a villain who has him completely in their power.

The updates on Steve Trevor through the years, the new interpretations by Kanigher, Conway, Thomas, and Mishkin for their respective eras, kept that he is a doer and a heroic character but still understood that Diana's attraction was based on his characteristics rather than his accomplishments. It meant more to her that he was the sort of person who would TRY to help her than the sort of person who COULD help her.

Somehow, though, people always ask why she likes him. They want him to have done something to deserve her. Or they consider the character a complete wash, and favor her with Superman or Batman, the only two men on the planet who can be said to have accomplished more than her. They want a super-powered love interest. The long-standing trend among anti-Steve fans who are still in favor of a male love interest is to get her a so-called "Real Man" because they don't get how a woman of her calibre could fall for someone who needed her help. This is one thing to see from fans, but to have writers try and establish this too, to have her go for the one guy who outpowers her or the badass normal, to write her as the female fighter who insists on a man who matches or defeats her betrays a misunderstanding of our culture and Diana as a character.

Wonder Woman was raised in a society of women, with no positive views of men until she met one herself. This is important because it tells us that she has no investment in or even concept of the Cult of Masculinity.

The Cult of Masculinity is a way of describing how society pushes this construct of what men need to be like. It is the thing that makes us value certain traits in men above others, and insist that men are worthless unless they are superhuman overachievers who never show a moment of weakness. It is the collection of traits that men are expected to embody in order to keep their place of superiority over women. It is, among other irritating things, the expectation that men have more important jobs and earn more money than their wives. It is, among other infuriating things, our cultural requirement that even if women are allowed to be heroes men must be bigger heroes.

Wonder Woman has no clue that men are supposed to be stronger, more active, more capable, better fighters, more famous, or make more money than she is. She has no idea what we would consider a worthy mate for her. (In fact, one of the great things in the Bronze Age is that the rest of the JLA doesn't quite understand why she's with him.) She doesn't know that she's supposed to be dating UP somehow, that she's supposed to go for someone who has more power or influence than she does. She doesn't realize that when she saw him drowning, exhausted, and near death she was supposed to conclude he was defective. She never figures out that every time he needs her to save him she's supposed to think less of him.

Diana doesn't see Steve the way we do, the way Black Canary does, the way Batman does, the way our society would see him. We see a man we have no use for because he dates a woman who is better at his job than he is. (Never mind how good he actually is at his job, we're blind to that.) She sees a person who is physically attractive that turns out to also be selfless, kind, brave, light-hearted and supportive. She sees someone who often needs her help, makes sure she gets the appropriate credit for that help, and lets her know how much he appreciates it. She sees a person who is a little thick-headed, sometimes kind of irritating but that will always be at her side and always ready with a smile or a word of encouragement when she needs it.