Thursday, April 21, 2011

Super Catch Up: Reign of Doomsday (so far)

With London, birthday parties, etc...  I've fallen a little behind on my comics reading, and I promised myself I'd be talking a bit about Superman comics.

Starting over a month ago, DC decided to launch a half-baked event leading up to the release of Action Comics #900 (the comic is released next week).  Its also a tribute or reminder of the last time DC sold a whole boat-ton of comics, which was 20 years ago with The Death of Superman storyline, from which came the Reign of the Supermen storyline.

Its no secret to longtime comics fans that when the company decides to suddenly overlay an "event" on a comic or a story within a comic that was not originally plotted to include the "event", things get messy.  And, boy howdy...

Is this thing ever a mess.

Steel (One Shot)
Written by STEVE LYONS; Art by ED BENES; Cover by ALEX GARNER
"I am Iron Man!  Wait...  that's wrong..."
The first comic to tie into this this thing was actually Steel #1, a one-shot which basically featured one of my favorite bits of the modern Superman-era, John Henry Irons (aka: Steel).  Steel is just one of those great ideas that's only going to work if a writer stays on Superman long enough to figure out that Superman needs a supporting cast, and Steel probably fits the bill better than most for someone who can be pals with Superman both as a superhero and as a super-scientist.

In the context of this issue, Superman is off wandering America, and so when Doomsday shows up, Steel basically gets really, really beat up.  The end.

Fans speculated that DC had killed Steel, and given the capricious ways of DC editorial, hey, maybe...

This issue was supposed to be setting us up for the Reign of Doomsday story, but somebody forgot to make sure this was going to synch up with anything else, and the next installments just sort of trickled out into books I'm not currently reading.

Outsiders #37


I didn't mind the set-up of Steel #1. It just felt like a prelude to bigger events, and sometimes comics does that. But here...

The co-plotting of the issue is attributed to Dan Didio and artist Phillip Tan. Script by Didio, DC's current Co-Publisher and a man who just loves a good mutilation in his comics.

I picked up Outsiders when the series relaunched, dealt with the changes as editorial floundered with the line-up around 2007, and then quit reading. I actually picked up the issue where it was revealed that Superman's sometimes-ally/ sometimes-enemy The Eradicator (I know... that name...) was joining the team, but, honestly, that was one of the worst comics I read that whole year. It was just a mess.

Well, in this issue Doomsday shows up out of nowhere in the middle of a completely ongoing Outsiders plot that's still seemingly concerned with the New Krypton storyline from the Superman books and which even the Superman books aren't really talking about anymore...  and beats everyone up, especially The Eradicator.

We do learn that:  Hey, Doomsday seems to have new powers.  And, look, that Olympian fellow from Gail Simone's Wonder Woman run found a place in...  Outsiders?

Outsiders seems to be the place DC gave Didio where he can keep talking about and insisting that things that happened under his stewardship at DC were neat ideas and shouldn't be forgotten.  Rucka's Checkmate?  Yes, absolutely a great book and its a shame DC has already forgotten how good it was.  Its too bad Didio louses up the memory with a nonsense superhero brawl.  Basically everything wrong with Wonder Woman that happened after OYL?  It can be seen in the fact that Didio thinks anyone was that interested in The Olympian in Wonder Woman or hoped he'd show up again.  The mix-n-match set of characters is just a telltale sign that Didio doesn't really get the actual DCU all that well, and he's not quite ready to admit defeat.

Mostly, though, the arrival of Doomsday in the title is meant to draw out The Eradicator, and once the two points are connected, its not too hard to say "oh, so Doomsday is going after all the characters from Reign of the Supermen".

Justice League of America #55

I don't think half of these characters appear in this issue

And then Doomsday shows up in the middle of a bunch of stuff that must be happening in Justice League of America, but given that I haven't actually been reading this title for what must have been a year, I have no clue what's happening. Eclipso is running around, possibly on the moon, possibly not. There seems to have been an incident that made Alan Scott go bald, created a magic city, which I think is ALSO on the moon, but its really hard to say.

What I did follow is that Supergirl is wearing all black and being moody in space and Doomsday shows up out of nowhere picking a fight with she and Boodika of the Green Lantern titles.

This crosses into...

Superman/ Batman Annual #5
Written by JAMES ROBINSON; Art and cover by MIGUEL SEPULVEDA

it's a little hard to parse, no?
At this point, we learn "oh, its not after Boodika, its after The Cyborg Superman who has been resting dormant inside her robotic body and-" Yeah. Look, that's fine. It at least gives Boodika a reason for showing up, even if the reason she appears is contrived to try to give Robinson an instant of being clever.

You see, Doomsday isn't really after Supegirl... the pattern is the same. He's after the Cyborg Superman. They fight. And just as Doomsday adapted to defeat The Eradicator and Steel, he also adapts to Cyborg Superman, which sounds kind of okay, but it really means Robot Doomsday, which just means... the fight ends.

I did get to see Robinson jettison the whole Dark Supergirl thing he was doing in JLA, and while that was satisfying to see him basically write Dark Supergirl to an end, it just felt like he decided "oh, I'm not going to keep doing this", and got a bit too literal with his explanation to the point where it just felt... silly.

If this is getting a little tedious to read this way, let me tell you....

The basic issue is that no matter what DC does with Doomsday, he's not very interesting. He has no motivation, and he only really works as a plotpoint. This was the design by the original creators back in 1992. Doomsday was a killing machine, and that was that. In the spirit of comics of the 1990's, that was pretty high concept. Various writers have tried to put their stamp on Doomsday and attempt to make him more interesting by, say, giving him the power of speech (now redacted), or thought (now seemingly redacted), or any of a number of items that would make him more interesting than, say, a really angry hunk of rock. But for some reason, we always wind up back at the angry hunk of rock.

Mostly, after the catastrophe of Countdown to Final Crisis and trying to wind stories into the ongoing narrative spine of the DCU, and watching that just utterly collapse, I figured DC was done with these sorts of "and now we pause for an issue while editorial mandates a brainless slugfest so you might pick up an otherwise unrelated comic" antics.

Curiously, Superboy seems to handle the narrative confusion the best of any of the series.

Superboy 6

I bet Doomsday's breath smells like peppermint Tic-Tacs

As Lemire has written the book so episodically, with each issue feeling contained to a specific time frame, Doomsday showing up seems less like an interruption and more of an unfortunate happenstance.

All that said, between all of these issues, nothing happened that couldn't have been represented in about four pages of issue #900 of Action Comics, and I'm forced to believe that we'll see exactly that in a recap.

The whole experience is a shame on so many levels. It burns through an issue of Superboy, it wastes a perfectly good opportunity for a Steel one-shot that could have demonstrated why Steel is exciting as a character, and it unnecessarily drove me, as a reader who doesn't care for the current JLA or Outsiders runs through a long slog with both books (especially the co-opted Superman/ Batman Annual. Those Annuals have been a lot of fun in previous years.).

There's no reason to think Action Comics #900 won't be a good read (more on Action's recent run another day), but if DC was casting a net to get Superman readers to check out JLA and Outsiders, this was a pretty cheesy way to do it, and, worse, they did nothing but convince me I've made the right decision ignoring both.

If they were looking to re-intro Steel, then...  okay.  Showing Steel getting creamed or dead wasn't a convincing argument for why I should keep up.

If they wanted to set a point in continuity where Superboy and Superman and Action synch up, okay...  but you can do that in a little editorial bubble, not blowing through an issue of a brand new title.

Its all just more than a little disappointing.


Gerry said...

Couldn't agree more. I didn't bother with the JLA and Outsiders. The Superboy series has been pretty good (Lemire is awesome) but this issue, to me, was unnecessary. I'll check out Action Comics, but I kind of wish that would just stay with Luthor, or someone else, rather than focus on Superman.

The League said...

Well, the good news is that you aren't missing anything by skipping either JLA or Outsiders as near as I can tell. I have been pleased with Lemire's take on Superboy, and I get that he has to deal with the whims of editorial, which is part of why I wanted to write this up. Its just not fair to interrupt a whole month of his book, basically skipping the regular storyline for at least a month, before putting him back on track. Its a bad use of my $2.99, and its a bad use of a perfectly good ongoing series trying to find its feet.

Signal Watch is just one site, but if LOTS of us are whining about this sort of stuff, perhaps DC will remember "oh, yes. People kind of hate it when we foist these half-baked 'cross-overs' on them (and they blame us, not the writers)."

As per Action - I can't say I'd put it the same way. I have really enjoyed the Black Ring storyline with Lex, and I'd like to see more, but Action is Superman's book. And, hoenstly, we've had two entire years now of no Superman in Action, and I'd prefer not to see the title diminish were Idleson and Moss to make another misstep with the title. At least keeping Superman in the book means it will get some readership, and as one of the oldest ongoing print concerns in the US, I think that's kind of keen.

What I WOULD welcome would be the occasional Lex-centric limited series when someone has a good story like The Black Ring.

Moreover, Superman has been in deep need of rehabilitation as a character since the doldrums of the pre-Infinite Crisis era. The best I've felt about the titles was during the Johns run on Action, and now I've loved Cornell on Action and Roberson on Superman. There's actually potential to get Superman's house in order for the first time in a very long time without Didio-esque editorial mandates interfering (ie - let's take Superman out of all his titles for over a year. And then lets hire JMS who necessitates that it happen AGAIN for ANOTHER YEAR).

Anyway, Action is what Action is, and I'd just like to see DC try to make a go of the basics of Superman rather than all the parlor tricks of the past 2.5 years.

Gerry said...

I can see that. To me, though, Superman is more interesting in terms of how affects those around him. If not Action, then I would love a book where that is the focus. Unless someone finds a good way to say something new with and about Superman, I don't know how the character can remain vital. The thing is, in order for that to happen, then he has to change.
When characters remain exactly the same for so long, without forward motion, that means the story is done.

I would argue that the story of Superman was actually done the minute he accepted his role as Superman. Nothing is really needed to understand the character. This is basically true of all superheroes, unless they are allowed to continue to grow and change. Of course, we see how badly it goes whenever this is attempted with Superman, in continuity. This is why I think the best Superman stories have always been Elseworlds stories. And of course, All Star Superman, which is kind of an Elseworlds story in a way.

The League said...

I don't know if I buy that the story ended when he put on the cape. After all, Action started with him already in action, so to speak and it was the late 80's before anyone started floating the "there's nothing else to say with Superman" theories.

To me, Superman is the whipping boy for basically any argument you can make about "what's wrong with serial comics". I would say I've read Batman comics since about 1984 and seen approximately two character beats in that time - the death of Jason Todd and the return of Batman and formation of Batman Inc. And yet, nobody is going to go out on a limb and point out that grumbling in the dark in a batmask is not the same as character development.

I won't argue that some of the great stories since COIE were in Elseworlds, but I'd point to the attitude taken towards Superman during that 20 year stretch as a character that DC was basically a bit embarrassed to use in the era of "grim'n'gritty". Also, about 8 years of Berganza and some really half-baked stewardship of bringing on new writers every six issues.

Readers also have to acknowledge what character growth means. I may not have loved the execution of the end of New Krypton, and I may not have loved how JMS started Grounded, but giving Superman a period of contemplation in the wake of a tragedy and finding new direction was EXACTLY what DC was attempting to do. JMS just wasn't the right guy to do it (but I'd say Roberson just might be).

Unfortunately, the comics audience is so trained (and rewards each other spectacularly) for bagging on ANYTHING DC tries to do with Superman, that even when those changes are occurring, its only a small part of the reading populace that notice what actually occurs in the titles versus the hysterical shrieking of "oh my God he's walking across the country thats so dumb why isn't he fighting Lobo or something".

There's a couple of ways to look at the problem. One is that a lot of people talk about Superman and his flaws, but very few people actually READ Superman. I look at X-Men and Wolverine solicits, or Daredevil solicits or JLA solicits, and its not hard to say "oh, they're not doing anything to move the ball genuinely forward" and "Wolverine isn't growing as a character". And that may be true, or it might not be true. But from my perspective, its absolutely true, but I also suspect it isn't but I'm not interested in what Marvel has done with Wolverine since 1992.

The League said...

Along those lines, I can outline exactly what I THINK DC was trying to do with the OYL Superman storyline and how that was a moment of growth for the character, I can look at Brainiac, Last Son, New Krypton, etc... and say, "well, here's what was going on", and those were all serious changes and character beats, but that stuff goes unacknowledged in the "why don't they just retire Superman?" noise on the internet.

Its been so long that DC has been TRYING (often badly) to make just the right change to Superman to sell the idea to folks who came to comics via post DKR sensibilities, that in a lot of ways, they've just lost sense of how growth is measured against a steady landscape. And that's why I think its important that they put Superman BACK in Metropolis with a strong, largely normal human co-starring cast.

Superman stories are not all game changers or character moments, but its also a milieu and I have a hard time seeing certain things as growth. To take two examples: Wolverine has a son in his own comics (this Daken fellow), and nobody blinks. In Superman Returns he has a son, and now Superman is a deadbeat dad and that whole thing is a big joke on the internet.

I assume Wolverine fans see the Daken meeting as a big character beat. For Superman, its a big old albatross.

There's something happening not just in Action and Superman titles, but I think across the comics spectrum and elsewhere, where we've SEEN grim'n'gritty and know its not the only kind of storytelling for superhero books. DC can make fun books. And if any character stands to benefit from that perspective, its Superman. But Idleson and Moss have to be given the opportunity to manage Superman without the interference of editorial wanting to celebrate the sturm und drang of stories like Death of Superman that were kind of silly.

Gerry said...

Absolutely, grim and gritty does not mean interesting or vice versa. The whole superheroes in the real world thing is also one I find tiresome at this point. You hit on something that I think is key, and that's having Superman in his own book with a cast that's mostly human. I think the whole DC Universe thing (or Marvel or whatever) is a double edged sword. A book in which Superman is the only superhero, could be pretty great. It's basically what Smallville is, only with a small cast of other heroes.

By the way, when I say the story is done when he puts on the suit, I mean that only from a mythological point of view, in terms of the hero's journey, big picture type of thing. Not chronologically, so much.

Also, to be fair, I don't think Daken is that well liked, actually. But I do agree on Wolverine. I think in his case, it's a character that was burnt out by being in so many books. And he's still on like 10 different teams.

I think Batman has remained interesting, not so much because of character beats (or lack thereof) or being grim, but because he's ultimately just a dude with issues. That immediately makes him more easy to relate to than Superman.

We'll see what they do next. Comics are starting to bring the fun back, while still finding a way to keep depth where appropriate. So, in the right hands, Superman could make a big comeback. I look forward to it.

The League said...

So its not just me? It DOES seem like there's this move in the last year or so to say "comics can be fun". Maybe Bully started it. I dunno. Maybe an influx of new readers who weren't patting themselves on the back that comics had "grown up".

Yep. Its going to take some doing, and they will need to put Superman in the right hands. At the risk of getting some awful fanfiction passed off as the read-deal, I think DC can't afford to ask people to write Superman anymore just because they're a name but may have no background with the character. Its part of why I love Roberson's work. The man is clearly up to speed.

TomO. said...

I too sensed a "damn it, comics are fun" movement happening over the last couple of years. The day they allow Superman to be a part of that movement is the day a lite bit of hope enters this old Superman fan's hardened heart.

I fear, however, that the recent slump in comic book sales across the board will be too easy an excuse to fall back on the "let's do something drastic" crutch.

I thank god that Cornell was able to make some awesome lemonade using JMS brand lemons, but I'm still worried that editorial is going to shoot themselves in the foot before they let him bring his trademark fun to bear.

Thanks for the opportunity for the awesome dialogue about the current state of affairs for the Superman line, as it seems intelligent dialogue is about as scarce as an actual Superman appearance in Action Comics these days.

The League said...

Hey Tom! Good to hear from you.

I'm feeling pretty bullish on DC and Superman at the moment. I think we're finally seeing the effects of putting Diane Nelson at the helm. One of those positive effects HAS to be that Nelson may not be a comics fan, but she knows what her brand names and properties are, and she's not going to buy the weird echo-chamber excuses and reasoning for why Superman isn't as popular as her other properties. That's just bad business.

I think Chris Roberson on Superman and Paul Cornell are writing a better Superman world, and I have to think Moss and Idleson are key to that effort as it seemed to start with OYL and their stewardship.

Anyway, we'll be talking even more about Superman on this blog, so I look forward to hearing from you!