Superhero Socialism: The History of Anarky

This article is cross-posted at The Batman Universe.

Anarky Header

One of Batman’s secondary but widely-studied and highly-controversial rogues is back in the pages of Detective Comics. The enigmatic Anarky made a surprise return in the final page of Detective Comics #957 and we saw the character team with Spoiler in the recent Detective Comics #963-964 by James Tynion IV and Carmen Carnero. Despite being not nearly as big as Joker, Riddler, or Two-Face and having made way less appearances, there is a reason Anarky’s Wikipedia page just as long and sprawling. Created by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle in 1989, Anarky was a concept for a new era of comics and a character that has had (and continues to have) deep social impact far beyond the page. Let’s take a look at the complex history of Anarky.

Anarky Detective Comics 609

In 1989’s “Anarky in Gotham City” (Detective Comics #608-609), Grant and Breyfogle (with inks by Steve Mitchell and colors by Adrienne Roy) brought us a radical anti-hero ripe for the emerging new decade: the one and only Anarky, a politically-charged social justice warrior named Lonnie Machin, who enters the Gotham scene clad in a robe of scarlet, rocking the “circle A” symbol with a gold mask and eerily lanky body. When Batman finally meets the new villain face-to-face, he punches Anarky in the gut and it nearly kills him. Why? Because Anarky is only twelve-years-old! But don’t let his age deceive you. Grant created Anarky to be the voice of a voiceless generation—a child genius that holds radical anarchist philosophy (albeit teetering on the edge of libertarian socialism). Through this character, Grant hoped to address things in mainstream superhero comics not often touched upon—topics including anti-fascism, anti-militarism, anti-racism, systemic police corruption, social inequity, and the disparity of wealth in America. Anarky’s goal, upon the character’s debut, was the creation of a true welfare state (or city) and the total regulation/elimination of capitalist economy. In fact, many Anarky stories often amazingly make reference to anarchist philosophers and theorists—ranging from Proudhon and Bakunin to Max Nomad and James Joll. Lonnie even keeps a copy of V for Vendetta in his room!

Anarky Detective Comics 620

Anarky’s follow-up story was 1990’s “Rite of Passage” (Detective Comics #618-621), again by Grant and Breyfogle. In “Rite of Passage,” Tim Drake (not yet Robin) proudly foils an Anarky scheme that involves the teenage antifa trying his hand at anti-corporate computer fraud (as the hacker “Moneyspider”). The Moneyspider alias will be important down the road, but Anarky’s plot-line here is mostly overshadowed by Tim’s parents being kidnapped by The Obeah Man. Tim’s father is paralyzed while his mother is killed. Despite the Drake Family tragedy looming large, this arc is still notable for firmly setting specificity to the tone of Anarky’s politics as he preaches to his fellow prisoners in juvenile hall. It also cements him as a champion of the poor, something introduced in the previous arc. Through Grant’s words (via Anarky’s monologues), mainstream superhero comics were finally on the verge of having a hero (or anti-hero) that shared the values of the underprivileged, disenfranchised, and marginalized. Richie rich Bruce Wayne might fight for these folks, but he’s never been one of them or truly shared their values. The very definition of Batman is plutocrat. In the Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon Justice League film, Bat-Affleck even responds to the question of “What is your superpower?” with a shit-eating grin, “I’m rich!” One could say that Batman’s plutocracy is a cog in the wheel of oligarchy, and Anarky is at the opposite spectrum. It’s hard to say for certain if there is a direct connection to the rise of Anarky, but similar leftist heroes would emerge in 1990’s DC via Dwayne McDuffie’s superb Afro-futurist Milestone line, which features working class Heroes of Color.

Interestingly, in the early 90s, since no one had filled the Boy Wonder void left behind by the death of Jason Todd, Grant and Breyfogle wanted Anarky to be the third Robin, petitioning the idea to DC higher-ups! Of course, that never happened as Marv Wolfman had already been given the duty of ushering in a new Robin and we got Tim Drake instead. Just imagine what could have been, though.

Anarky Robin Annual 1

Anarky returned for the 1992 DC Annual crossover arc “Eclipso: The Darkness Within”—specifically in Robin Annual #1. This issue, by Grant, John Wagner, Tom Lyle, and Scott Hanna, was a precursor for the future of Anarky, as he acts more like a hero than a villain, teaming with a rival closer to his own age: Tim Drake (now officially Robin). In this arc, Anarky escapes juvenile hall, demands that the mayor institute sweeping social change, and then uses mystical Eclipso diamonds on himself to become a super-powered being. When the diamonds turn a young girl into a vicious Eclipso Tyrannosaurus Rex, Robin and Anarky team-up to defeat her.

Anarky Shadow of the Bat 41 Batman

Entering the mid 90s, Anarky’s next appearance was in the classic “Knightfall” arc, in which he quite memorably interacts with both Scarecrow and crazy new Batman, Jean-Paul Valley. In 1995’s The Batman Chronicles #1, Grant once again used his character to espouse leftist political ideas as Lonnie gives a scholarly lesson in anarchy to his fellow juvie hall mates. That same year Grant penned “Anarky” (Batman: Shadow of the Bat #40-41), which again further pushed Anarky into the status of possible hero. In this arc, Anarky teams-up with Batman, Robin, and private eye Joe Potato to stop the mad bomber Malochia. He earns the respect of the heroes by selflessly crashing Malochia’s “Dirigible of Doom” into Gotham Harbor, at great risk to his own life. In fact, the heroes and Lonnie’s family think that he has perished and even mourn his passing. The “Anarky” arc brilliantly highlighted the greatness of Anarky and showed what limitless potential the character had in those days. Grant even got to do an Anarky issue for The Batman Adventures series in 1995 as well.

Anarky Vol 1 3 Batman

With popularity spiking, DC gave the green light for a coveted solo mini-series. Grant and Breyfogle once again joined forces to deliver “Metamorphosis” via four issues of Anarky in 1997. Sadly, Anarky’s unique status as a legit leftist social justice vigilante (a superhero socialist, if you will) drastically changed via this series. Lonnie’s belief system altered as Grant’s own personal beliefs changed from leftist radicalism (in the vein of socialism or anarchism) to Ayn Rand-influenced neo-tech (in the vein of objectivist libertarianism). In “Metamorphosis,” Anarky invents a device that will “de-brainwash” every human on Earth of all individual social constraints, hoping to eliminate religious fundamentalism, mass mediated-culture, and right wing hegemony. This may seem like Anarky’s prior modus operandi, but the big difference is now that he wants to uphold the capitalist free-market system in America. Justice is still paramount to his mission, but there is now leeway for individual and corporate greed/oppression. In order to power his machine, Anarky collects the essences of Etrigan’s madness, Darkseid’s evil, and Batman’s purity. However, Batman damages the machine and it affects only Anarky. Thus, Anarky’s metamorphosis (i.e. belief shift from socialist-anarchism to Randian objectivist anarcho-capitalism) is complete.

Anarky Green Lantern ring Anarky Vol 2

In 1999, Grant and Breyfogle delivered the second volume of Anarky, eight issues that see Batman kicking Anarky out of Gotham (following the destruction of the city in “Cataclysm”). Lonnie moves to Washington DC where he builds his own “Anarky Cave” underneath the Washington Monument, becomes an expert in superstring theory, gets a Green Lantern ring, starts blogging, thwarts Ra’s al Ghul, and delivers a strong anti-war message to the zombie-resurrected Founding Fathers of America. However, with sales lagging, DC gave Anarky Vol. 2 the axe. Hoping to go out with a bang, Grant and Breyfogle once again tried to permanently elevate their beloved character to the pinnacle of DC’s mythos, heavily insinuating that Joker was Anarky’s biological father in the final issue (Anarky Vol. 2 #8). But just as Grant and Breyfogle had once unsuccessfully lobbied to make Lonnie the third Robin, their idea to paternally link Joker with Lonnie was never going to fly either. Grant and Breyfogle desperately wanted this to be canon, but higher-ups and classic writers (notably Denny O’Neil) were dead-set against it. Thus, the follow-up confirmation (true or false) never happened, effectively cutting-off the Joker-related momentum at its knees. I guess we’ll never truly know if Joker was Lonnie’s dad in the Modern Age. Grant would leave DC shortly thereafter, placing Anarky in dreaded character Limbo for nearly ten years (aside from three relatively unmemorable cameo appearances).

Anarky Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong Robin 182

In 2009, Fabian Nicieza, a fan of the character, decided to bring Anarky out of Limbo and into the pages of Robin. Starting with Robin #181-182, Lonnie reappears but is immediately shot and paralyzed by Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong, who winds up becoming the brand new Anarky, a fully-fledged super-villain. The villainous Armstrong version of Anarky makes various appearances in Robin and Red Robin. As does Lonnie, who, in 2011’s Red Robin #17, is hired by Red Robin (Tim Drake) to be his very own version of Oracle using his old “Moneyspider” gimmick! In this sense, Nicieza was able to return Lonnie to his social justice warrior roots, albeit without a heavy political agenda. (The lack of politics attached to Lonnie and the attribution of the Anarky moniker to a super-villain like Armstrong were very much to the chagrin of Grant and some right wing journalists, who wanted the concept of Anarky to forever remain a face of the Randian libertarian politics in comics.) The handicapped Lonnie acts as a hero right up to the final issue of the Red Robin series, which ended due to the New 52 reboot.

Red Robin Moneyspider Lonnie Machin Anarky

The true anarcho-socialist or anarchist superhero is a rarity—then and now. Green Arrow might mention Marxism every once in awhile, but aside from Alan Moore’s V (who was a direct influence on the creation of Anarky), Grant Morrison’s secret society in The Invisibles, Jamie Hewlett’s Tank Girl, and Dwayne McDuffie’s aforementioned Milestone line characters, most comic book characters that ostensibly lean radically left actually don’t. Plus, more often than not, they’ve been portrayed one-dimensionally and are usually super-villains to boot. DC’s relatively new Nightwing rival, Raptor, is a legit anarchist, but he’s already heading into straight-up super-villain territory. When thinking of ostensibly leftist characters that are actually quite politically hollow, a slew of Red Scare communist villains from the 50s through the 90s come to mind. As do Marvel’s Flag-Smasher, DC’s Kestrel, and Marvel’s radical feminists like Man-Killer and Superia. Others, like Marvel’s Rafe Michel and Daily Bugle reporter Leila Taylor, qualify as legit leftist radicals that were portrayed with more depth back in the 70s, but, again, they weren’t superheroes. Various characters featured in the works of Mark Millar (specifically Civil War, Jupiter’s Legacy, Jupiter’s Circle, and Huck) and Frank Miller (specifically The Dark Knight Returns and Martha Washington) might appear to be anti-capitalist anti-state heroes at surface-level, but they always turn out to be less than heroic, illegitimate, or failures when it comes to political conviction or social activism. Randian libertarianism is, in fact, imbued in a lot of both Millar and Miller’s oeuvre, including all their works listed here. The same can absolutely be said of Green Arrow, the skeevy original Charlton Comics version of The Question, and his extremely vile Watchmen counterpart Rorschach. Overall, nothing mentioned above (besides V for Vendetta, The Invisibles, Tank Girl, or Milestone) hits the hammer on the head or manages to fit the pure leftist bill quite like 90s Anarky. As far as anarchist heroes (or anti-heroes), Anarky is one of the best examples and one of the very few we’ve ever seen in mainstream comics to this day.

A quick interlude regarding the Charlton Question, who was created by Steve Ditko, a strict Rand-ian Objectivist. (Rumor has it that Ditko left Marvel due to fighting about politics with Stan Lee.) Ditko expressly wrote the Question to have his Objectivist political beliefs—even basing him off of his earlier nastier character “Mister A.” Only much later (at DC Comics) did Denny O’Neil alter the Question’s politics and spirit, even going so far as to make the Question a Zen Buddhist. Later Question writers like Greg Rucka “fixed” the Question’s tarnished image even more.

It will be interesting to see where Tynion takes Anarky, especially since he penned a brilliant social-activist monologue—almost a call to all superheroes (and those writing superheroes)—in 2016’s Detective Comics #946. The dialogue, spoken by Tim Drake, is an uplifting speech about how the Bat-squad should bring new hope to Gotham, making it the safest city in the world. He talks about the very definition of what it means to be a superhero, about how superheroes must earn the public trust through collaboration and rehabilitation, rather than the usual fear-instilling and coercion. This is one of the best monologues I’ve heard in a long time in any comic book—it cuts to the core of what a superhero is supposed to be. And it also has shades of old-school Anarky mentality in it. Batman could take a few pointers, let me tell ya.

New Detective Comics cover Anarky Spoiler

The first part of DC’s long and complex experiment in overtly politicizing superhero comics via a foil for Batman lasted from 1989 to 2011 (with a few hiatuses here and there), but it didn’t simply end when the Modern Age of comics gave way to the New 52. Let’s take a gander at Anarky’s influence on comics in the past six years.

In 2013, Anarky saw his first action outside of a comic book, appearing as the primary antagonist in the animated TV show Beware the Batman. This version of the character contained some similarities to the original Anarky, but was rendered more as a Professor Moriarty-esque villain than any sort of anti-hero. Also in 2013, Anarky made his video game debut in Batman: Arkham Origins. This version of the character was more in tune with the anti-corporate anarchist roots that Anarky had in the early 90s. In 2015, Anarky made his live action TV debut in Arrow, played by Alexander Calvert, once again as a more pure super-villain stereotype.

Jensen's Anarky Green Lanter Corps 25 Zero Year

With Anarky popping up in different media around 2013, it was only a matter of time before he sprung back into the pages of the New 52. With DC having been fully rebooted and Batman getting a brand new origin story (“Zero Year”) courtesy of Scott Snyder, there was a blank slate for Anarky. In 2014, writer Van Jensen (along with a rather large creative team of Robert Venditti, Victor Drujiniu, Ivan Fernandez, Allan Jefferson, Juan Castro, Rob Lean, and Garry Henderson) delivered a brand new version of Anarky in Green Lantern Corps Vol. 3 #25. In the issue, set during Batman’s first year in costume, a super-storm heads towards Gotham, which has been blacked-out by Riddler. A team of marines, including Sergeant John Stewart (future Green Lantern), helps evacuate an arena full of Gothamites. There, the soldiers discover an anarchist group—led by Anarky—has reclaimed “people’s ownership” of the arena, despite a portion of the people having been forced to go along with his plan. While Stewart despises Anarky’s methods, he sees that Anarky means well and winds up siding with him against his own army brethren, who attempt to quell the situation with unnecessary lethal force. Stewart stops his crazed lieutenant and frees the hostages without causing any deaths. Meanwhile, Anarky escapes clean. Afterward, Stewart punches-out his lieutenant, effectively ending his military career.

While the new Anarky seemed to reflect what made him so popular in the early 90s, a big change in the character was making him black. Jensen said he wanted to do “a fresh take that honors [Anarky’s] legacy.” An African-American Anarky seemed to do just this, giving a minority voice to the ultimate social justice warrior, especially in a situation that closely resembled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Not only that, but juxtapositioning him with John Stewart, one of the most recognizable black DC heroes, and then having Stewart give a wink and a nod to Anarky, was a big boon to the character. Jensen and company even interspersed Green Lantern Corps Vol. 3 #25 with a flashback to Stewart’s childhood in Detroit, showing corrupt racist police reaction to left wing labor unionists. All of this was done to give sympathy to and legitimize Anarky’s political point of view. Unfortunately, Jensen’s Anarky was a big tease. Despite being well-received, this version of Anarky would not be seen again, making this a one-off one-shot appearance, much to the chagrin of fans, who were generally excited about this take. (I should note that Jensen is not a black writer, which does unfortunately complicate the message here. All black characters need not be written by people of color, but an actual black voice—in the relative sea of whiteness that is the mainstream comic industry—would have added credence, legitimacy, and power to this Anarky. Thankfully, despite this, Jensen seems to have penned a pretty decent version of Anarky—one that cuts to the core of what he is supposed to represent, and one that addresses the issues of marginalized and ostracized minorities with a progressively open mind.)

Detective Comics Anarky Bullock

In 2014, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato—via their “Icarus” arc (Detective Comics Vol. 2 #30-34) and follow-up “Anarky” arc (Detective Comics Vol. 2 #37-40)—would do their own take on the character. In “Icarus,” Bruce meets with Elena Aguila, who wants his help in reconstructing the slummy East End Waterfront property purely as a positive social act despite the fact that it would be a financial disaster for Wayne Enterprises. Bruce meets with Elena at her daughter Annie’s pro motocross event. There, Elena appeals to Bruce’s philanthropic side and he agrees to work with her “Healthy Families Initiative”—to put social interest ahead of corporate interest. In doing so, Bruce shuns corrupt Congressman Sam Young who had proposed a less socially progressive, more corporate-friendly reconstruction plan. This all leads to Elena’s death and Batman attempting to get the bizarre drug known as Icarus off the streets, a case that culminates in the complete destruction of the East End Waterfront. With plans so save the waterfront ruined, Annie angrily storms off. In the wreckage of the East End, Bullock and his partner Nancy Yip go to retrieve the remaining crate of the Icarus drug, but in its place is a spray-painted anarchy symbol. Anarky is back in Gotham!

Detective Comics New 52 Anarky Sam Young

By 2015, Manapul and Buccellato had successfully built an intriguing mystery. Who was Anarky? Could the new Anarky be socially progressive and kick-ass motocross-riding Annie Aguila? Or could it be Jensen’s awesome African-American anti-hero? (Sorry, I already spoiled that it wasn’t him.) Manapul and Buccellato continued their story with the Detective Comics arc entitled “Anarky,” adding another perfect candidate: Lonnie Machin! Thanks to references in Detective Comics Vol. 2 #38, we were given some New 52 backstory: Years ago, a tech genius calling himself Moneyspider hacked into Wayne Enterprises’ airtight computer system. Batman tracked Moneyspider and exposed him as pre-teen prodigy Lonnie Machin. Feeling sorry for both Lonnie and his down-and-out mom, Bruce decided not to press charges. Batman had been watching over Lonnie ever since. The idea that Lonnie could be returning as a rebooted Anarky in 2015 was quite exciting.

Lonnie Machin New 52

In the “Anarky” arc, the unknown Anarky executes corrupt business exec Jeb Lester. Meanwhile, Batman apprehends an escaped Mad Hatter and discovers that Jervis Tetch had been secretly killing kids even before his debut as Mad Hatter. Bullock (who has been tracking Anarky for months), Yip, and Batman investigate the scene of Lester’s murder, when, all of a sudden, the building’s computer systems lock-down and a bomb goes off, scorching a giant anarchy symbol into the façade of the structure. On Christmas morning, Anarky announces that he has erased the digital footprint of everyone in Gotham, making it so all police records, bank records, and credit debt are completely erased. Anarky declares that social revolution has begun. The next morning, Sam Young pledges support to Anarky, claiming there is method in his madness, especially compared to the right wing Mayor Hady. Batman interrogates Lonnie, citing that only he could have accessed control of Wayne Tower. Machin admits to the hack job, but says he gave the info to Lester, not Anarky. Later, during a robbery incited by Anarky’s words, innocent bystander Lonnie gets shot and is rushed to the hospital. Batman and Bullock find a link between Tetch and Young, which brings them to an abandoned boarding house. There, the heroes realize that those emboldened by Anarky have been influenced by Mad Hatter mind-control tech as well. They also learn that Tetch was a groundskeeper that terrorized and killed the kids at the boarding house, including a young Anarky. Anarky tries to kill Mad Hatter, but Batman stops him and punches his mask off…

Detective Comics Anarky Sam Young vs Batman

New 52 Anarky Sam Young Reveal

And with so many good directions to choose from, it is at this point that Manapul takes the pro wrestling route, delivering a twist just to swerve the audience. (Although, to be fair, this was the direction they had planned from the beginning.) Anarky was the jerk that upheld corporate values at the expense of the poor, a dude in the pocket of both Big Business and gangsters: Sam Young. Acting as a copycat of Jensen’s Anarky from “Zero Year” and using the famous Gotham anti-hero’s moniker for his own twisted purposes, Young was our new Anarky. The story continues with Batman and Bullock saving the day and busting Anarky. Thankfully, Lonnie makes a full recovery. In regard to politics, Manapul’s Anarky talked the talk, but he didn’t walk the walk, instead opting to using anarcho-socialist activism and rhetoric to mask ulterior criminal motives—albeit a somewhat sympathetic justice-oriented personal revenge scheme.

New 52 Earth-2 Anarky

In 2015, the New 52 also gave us our first female Anarky, the alternate Anarky of Earth-2, a super-villain seen in five issues of Earth-2: Society. Similarly to Manapul’s Anarky, this version also espouses anti-authoritarian politics and rhetoric, but only to mask criminal activity that has nothing to do with social justice. For example, Earth-2’s Anarky—created by Daniel H. Wilson and Jorge Jimenez—blows up a building to access a spacecraft engine, then instigates a protest riot to cover her tracks. This also turns out to be part of a dastardly scheme by the villain Doctor Impossible.

New Detective Comics cover Anarky Spoiler

And that brings us up to speed. Detective Comics #957 and Detective Comics #963-964, part of DC’s Rebirth reboot, saw Anarky return once more, this time to lend a hand to Spoiler, who is estranged from the Bat-Family. An wouldn’t you know, Tynion and Carnero have returned Lonnie Machin behind the mask! In issues #963-964 we catch a glimpse at the good work Anarky is doing. He’s set up an underground anarcho-syndicalist farming commune—nicknamed “Utopia”—for Gotham’s poor and destitute. The commune has a tent city, solar lighting, and greenhouses. After all, as Twitter user @SemperLiber9 says, “Anarchism is a mix of community gardening and punching Nazis.” Notably, pure heroic characters Harper Row and Leslie Thompkins are a part of this movement. Spoiler herself is so moved, she not only joins the movement, but becomes romantically involved with Anarky…for a brief moment. Batman exposes a dark criminal connection between Anarky and a super-villain called The First Victim, giving the Dark Knight all the reason he needs to throw Lonnie behind bars. Anarky is relegated to quasi-villain status yet agin, although his good work lives on in the form of the commune. At the end of ‘tec #964, Anarky—using his Moneyspider skills—hatches a plot that should see him out of Arkham in the near future.

Based upon Tynion’s work on Detective Comics and already what we’ve seen in Detective Comics #963-964, the new version of Anarky should be in more than capable hands, should he visit the DCU again. Despite Anarky’s clash with Batman and immediate jailing, a return to Lonnie (and his urban farming commune) implies a return to the character’s roots. And there’s no better time for Anarky in superhero comics than right now. Anarky can be the symbol he was meant to be at his inception—a force for good, social equity, real justice, and justice for all. Comic book universes are fantastical and far-fetched, but they are meant to reflect the world in which we live. And in 2017 America, where the President won’t effectively denounce Nazis and the KKK, choosing to instead pander to them as a constituency, Anarky is the hero we need. In 2017 America, where the alt-right and white supremacists are emboldened in ways they haven’t been in a long time, Anarky is the hero we need. In 2017 America, where systemic racism plagues our law enforcement agencies and the prison industrial complex is tantamount to slavery, Anarky is the hero we need.

Tim Drake Monologue Detective Comics 946

Through the lens of a modern Anarky—treated as a sophisticated social justice revolutionary that upholds the values of Emma Goldman, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King while picking up the pieces of the shattered Occupy movement and bearing the banner of Black Lives Matter or Antifa—Tynion has a great opportunity to re-introduce an antihero that is a stalwart and uncompromising defender against fascism, unchecked militarism, sexism, racism, homophobia, systemic police corruption, economic corporate despotism, and class oppression. If Tynion’s reboot of Anarky acts as this defender while fighting for the basic public provision of education, health care, and housing and while also incorporating the concept detailed in the Tim Drake monologue from Detective Comics #946—the idea that superheroes should earn the public trust through collaboration and rehabilitation—Anarky has the potential to be one of the most culturally relevant characters of the 21st century. As Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle once showed decades ago, Anarky is the perfect tool to address these types of ideas in comics. And now is the perfect time for them to be addressed.

Rafael Albuquerque Batman Cover Anarky

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A Brief Breakdown of the Bygone Batman of Earth-B

NOTE: This article is cross-posted at The Batman Universe.

jerry lewis bob hope batman collin colsher earth-b


By the late 1970s there were a handful of Silver Age DC stories that just seemed out-of-continuity no matter what. They just didn’t fit, violated characterization, had obvious continuity errors, or were just plain strange (even for Silver Age comics). Many of these stories in question were written by Bob Haney and E Nelson Bridwell and edited by Murray Boltinoff and Bob Rozakis. Thus, these out-of-synch tales retroactively became assigned to Earth-B. The assignment of the letter B came from the fact there were so many B names creatively-involved in the non-synchronous tales—Bridwell, Boltinoff, and two Bobs (three if you count Bob Hope)! Further reasoning for assigning the letter B was that many of these tales also took place in The Brave & The Bold. While it is rumored that Myron Gruenwald and Mark Gruenwald originally came up with the idea for Earth-B, the concept was first mentioned in a letters column by Rozakis in the 1970s. Creators Mark Waid and Lou Mougin cemented the concept of Earth-B in 1986’s OFFICIAL CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS CROSSOVER INDEX. However, the Crossover Index was co-published by Independent Comics Group (ICG) and was therefore considered only quasi-official at the time. Thus, several contradictions arose within.

For example, Mougin and Waid, in the Crossover Index, state clearly that the 1974 appearances of Thomas Wayne Jr (in World’s Finest Comics #223 and World’s Finest Comics #227) are definitive occurrences on Earth-B. Now, while that is set in stone, the confusion lies in the fact that this doesn’t necessarily mean that Thomas Wayne Jr doesn’t also exist on Earth-1. Because of this, many wikis and online Silver Age synopses include Thomas Wayne Jr as part of Earth-1 canon as well. There are precedents. Scholars Mikel Midnight and Douglas Ethington regard the Golden Age Robin origin story in Batman #32, Part 2 as contradicting the Golden Age Robin origin story in Detective Comics #38. They place Batman #32, Part 2 solely on Earth-B. Likewise, 1994’s Batman: The Last Angel occurs on the Earth-B timeline (as its final future tale) and simultaneously on the Modern Age timeline. However, the Thomas Wayne Jr stories also contradict DC Comics Presents #24 by failing to acknowledge Deadman’s prior actions. Therefore, it does seem like WFC #223 and WFC #227 are non-canon on Earth-1.

earth-b thomas wayne jr collin colser

But the contradictions were further amplified (or cleaned-up, depending on your point-of-view) in 2005, when the Crossover Index was updated and republished as part of Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Absolute Edition. Because the Earth-B timeline—a timeline comprised entirely of contradictory stories—itself contained contradictions, comics historian/researcher John Wells decided that Earth-B could be even further broken down into parts. As co-author of the “Compendium” section of The Absolute Edition, Wells created Earth-32, a place to hold all of the stories that definitely couldn’t work on Earth-1, but which also seemed to be on shaky ground on Earth-B. (Wells used the number 32 for his new Earth, citing that many of the stories that weren’t jibing with the rest of the Earth-B chronology could be traced back to both 1964’s Green Lantern #32 and 1945’s Batman #32.)

With Earth-B missing a chunk of its previous material (which had now migrated to Earth-32), Wells realized that Earth-B was a hatchet-job and really looked like something unrecognizable. Thus, he took all the material that wasn’t re-assigned to Earth-32 and listed it as a part of another new Earth: Earth-12. (Earth-12 was first mentioned in 1986’s Oz-Wonderland War—a three issue series that saw Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew join forces with the inhabitants of L Frank Baum’s Oz and Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland to fight Ruggeddo the Nome King. Eat your heart out, Alan Moore! The Inferior Five make a brief appearance in Oz, citing that they are looking for Earth-12. This has led some to speculate that the Inferior Five stories occur on Earth-12 (and therefore Earth-B as well).

oz wonerland war collin colsher

Because of Wells’ 2005 updates, some sources list Earth-B as an “unofficial Earth,” merely an amalgamation of the two “official Earths,” Earth-32 and Earth-12. But this is a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. Earth-B was first, then Earth-32, then Earth-12. One could endlessly continue this process and get nowhere fast. Wells himself is nearly guilty of wandering into this desert. While most of the Batman toy tie-ins, food product mini-comics, and cereal box send-aways occur on Earth-B/Earth-32/Earth-12, Wells—in The Absolute Edition—notes specifically that the Hostess Snack Cake free comics and in-comic Hostess advertisements featuring Batman from the 1970s and 1980s all take place on a separate “Earth-Hostess.” Earth-Hostess! See what I mean? For the purposes of the Real Batman Chronology Project, Earth-B, Earth-32, and Earth-12 (and Earth-Hostess) each exist. Earth-B merely exists as a separate timeline that combines all of Earth-12 and Earth-32.

hostess snack cake collin colsher batman

Another interesting fun fact about Earth-B’s Adventures of Bob Hope series. Some of its elements were canon on Earth-1, most notably the debut and existence of Bob Hope’s amazingly ridiculous nephew Tadwallader Jutefruce, who moonlights as the superhero called Super-Hip.

Much of the information above comes from Mikel Midnight’s “Cosmology Compendium: Earth-B Timeline” (compiled in 2005), which in turn filtered information via writers Douglas Ethington and John Wells. Historian John McDonagh (seemingly via Wells and writer Mike Tiefenbacher) also proves a worthy source in the comments section of a 2006 “Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed” blog post by scholar Brian Cronin.

Below is a Batman of Earth-B timeline (of my own creation). Many of these items, as explained above, also go on Wells’ Earth-32 or Earth-12. Note that the meat-and-potatoes (i.e. stuff in-between the items on the list below) reflects the Silver Age Earth-1 timeline. Basically, this means that if I were making a full Earth-B timeline, I would copy-and-paste most of Earth-1’s chronology into it.

–Batman #32 (also canon on Golden Age pre-Crisis Earth-2 timeline)
–Adventures of Jerry Lewis #97
–Swing with Scooter #5
–Adventures of Bob Hope #103
–The Brave & The Bold #84
–The Brave & The Bold #90
–The Brave & The Bold #96
–The Brave & The Bold #99
–The Brave & The Bold #108
–World’s Finest Comics #223
–World’s Finest Comics #227
–The Brave & The Bold #117
–Batman Power Records Comic #PR-27
–Batman Power Records Comic #PR-30
–The Brave & The Bold #124
(introduction of Earth-PRIME B)
–Amazing World of DC Comics #11
–The Brave & The Bold #131
–The Brave & The Bold Special
–The Brave & The Bold #146
–Aquateers Meet the Super Friends
(1979, this likely goes on the Super Friends’ Earth 1-A too)
–Batman: The Peril of the Penguin (1979, Post Fruity & Cocoa Pebbles box mini-comic giveaway)
–Super Heroes: Prisoners of the Stars (1979, Post Fruity & Cocoa Pebbles box mini-comic giveaway)
–Batman: The Joker’s Last Laugh (1980, Post Super Sugar Crisps box mini-comic giveaway)
–Super Heroes: The Secret of the Sinister Lighthouse (1980, Post Super Sugar Crisps box mini-comic giveaway)
–The Brave & The Bold #162
–The Brave & The Bold #167
–Batman: Belt ‘Em For Safety
(1981, Mini-Foldout comic for The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
–Super Powers Collection #2 (1983, Kenner toy tie-in)
–Super Powers Collection #5-9 (1983, Kenner toy tie-in)
–Super Powers Collection #11 (1983, Kenner toy tie-in)
–DC Challenge #1-12 (1985-1986)
–Viewmaster Mini Comics: The Joker’s Wild (1993, based on “5-way Revenge”)
–Justice League America vs. Amazo (1993, Kellogg’s Cinnamon Mini Buns mini-comic)
–Batman: The Last Angel (1994, also canon on Modern Age Earth-0)

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earth-b collin colsher cover collage

The Earth-B items on the list above only include issues that feature Earth-B Batman. As stated above, the Earth-B timeline is modeled off of the Silver Age Earth-1 timeline, so a version of pretty much every Silver Age DC character would also live on Earth-B. Other inhabitants, however, are unique to Earth-B. Besides the comic versions of Bob Hope, Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis, unique inhabitants of Earth-B include: The Green Team, Prez Rickard, The Inferior Five, The Freedom Brigade, Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Plastic Man (from Arnold Drake and Gil Kane’s Plastic Man Vol. 2 ), Scooter and his gang (from Swing with Scooter), and The Super Friends (from the comics only, although some folks cross-list the TV series on Earth-B as well).

Of course, the past is the past. The Silver Age ended with The Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986. And Earth-B/Earth-12/Earth-32 all disappeared into the white ether as well. The Modern Age (and later New 52/New Age) would give us a new Earth-12 —home to the Batman Beyond DCAU characters—and a new Earth-32—home to the Elseworlds-styled Justice Titans.

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The Reboot Has Begun

new superman timeline collin colsher

I wasn’t sure whether or not DC was heading toward a full reboot with its long “Rebirth” saga, set to wrap early next year with the cosmic intervention of Watchmen‘s Dr. Manhattan and Mr. Oz. But the multiverse-shattering conclusion to “Superman Reborn” in Action Comics #976, basically confirms that DC is indeed doing a full reboot.

In fact, the reboot has already begun! Much like how the Silver Age was rebooted in sporadic chunks from the 1950s into the 1960s, it appears as though the New Age proper (aka post New 52) will be ushered in via a similar method. Action Comics #976 has effectively killed the New 52—or at least fatally poisoned it. In case you haven’t read it, here is what happened in convenient synopsis and analysis form (lifted straight from the New 52 Year Ten Chronology). Thanks to the meddling of Mr. Mxyzptlk and the undefined seemingly-cosmic powers of Superboy, the spirits of New 52 Superman and New 52 Lois Lane merge with Modern Age Superman and Modern Age Lois Lane. A new merged timeline, which combines both Modern and New 52 histories of these characters, is created in an instant. If you thought Convergence was clunky and messy, Action Comics #976 is right in that vein. If the Superman timeline has indeed changed then the entire DCU timeline has effectively changed as well, which means full reboot. This ain’t a soft reboot. I’m sure a lot of people will say that it is a softie, even comparing it to something like Zero Hour or Infinite Crisis. But that just isn’t the truth. With both Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis, there only really a few cosmetic changes for DC’s big players (Batman and Superman). And in the case of the former, most of Zero Hour‘s bigger cosmetic cosmic alterations wound up being cancelled-out or ignored within a few years’ time anyway.

But just to prove my point, let’s use a character case study to better explain. You can fully alter Vibe’s history and it wouldn’t effect the entire DCU timeline. No offense to Vibe fans, but he’s simply not that important as a character. A change to Vibe would register as a caveat, a minor retcon. But when you fuck with Superman’s history, you fuck with the entire history of the DCU. Along with Batman, Superman is a continuity linchpin of the DCU. To look at Action Comics #976 specifically, it merges two pairs of radically different characters. New 52 Superman was madly in love with and dated Wonder Woman for quite some time. New 52 Lois Lane was only ever a friend to Clark. Modern Age Lois and Clark were in love, married, and had a child together—a child that is 12-years-old at this point! I’m not sure how these things can coexist without a total reboot.

DC, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do! Kyle Pinion, at The Beat, says it best: “Don’t expect a ton of answers beyond hand-wavery on the specifics of how we got here or how the pieces all fit together. Really though, there’s no way Superwoman or New Super-Man could still exist as is, given how specifically tied they are to the events of ‘The Final Days of Superman’ just ahead of Rebirth.” And it’s not just Superwoman and New-Superman. Nor is it just stuff related to recent story arcs. The majority of the New 52 timeline couldn’t exist “as is” without the very specific and detailed existence of Nehru-collared New 52 Superman and solo New 52 Lois. James Whitbrook, at Kotaku, writes: “This obviously has ramifications—monumental ones—that stretch far beyond the lives of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. We have yet to see the evidence of it in the wider DC Comics roster, but this is essentially a brand new DC Universe. Moments from before the New 52 reboot in now exist again, alongside the events of the New 52 universe itself. This is so out of nowhere that I feel like I might have gone slightly insane reading this comic book. DC doesn’t just up and create a whole new universe for its comics without a fanfare. But this has to affect more than just Superman and Lois’ lives, right?” Yes, yes it does. Even Action Comics writer Dan Jurgens basically says it is a full reboot: “The events of Action #976 reset and reshape the entire Superman timeline. Where there had been two Superman [sic], their realities have now been fused into one timeline with just one of them. And, yes, Clark and Lois are back at the Daily Planet. Not only does everyone know they had a child; they were there shortly after Jon was born. The Daily Planet crew has known Jon his entire life.

With all the evidence stacked up before us (or above us), I’d say it it pretty clear that the “rebirthing” has officially begun. Some stories published after Action Comics #976 might be able to fit into both the New 52 and the post-New 52 timeline. But others certainly won’t be able to. It’ll be the new task of the Real Batman Chronology Project to determine how things fit up until Dr. Manhattan takes over.

However, seeing as the big Watchmen reboot event won’t likely come until Summer 2018, we have over a year until the possibility of a new and finalized DC timeline. That puts me at a crossroads of sorts. In the very near future, much of the DCU will be in an interim period, meaning that it will be firmly outside of the realm of the New 52 (reflecting “Superman Reborn” changes) yet prior to any changes that could occur as a result of the Watchmen stuff. In essence, all comics from Summer 2017 until Summer 2018 are the equivalent of a reboot crossover à la the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. Big difference is that Crisis lasted 12 issues whereas this “reboot arc” will comprise all of DC comics for a year. That’s a lot of issues. I’m hesitant to make an interim timeline, but maybe it is necessary? After all, “Futures End” was a year’s worth of stories that wound up equalling nothing more than a discardable interim timeline—and I have that catalogued on the site. We’ll see, we’ll see. Any thoughts?

dr manhattan on mars collin colsher

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16 Best Comics of 2016

 
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HONORABLE MENTIONS:

 
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-Saga – Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples (Image)
-Flying Couch – Amy Kurzweil (Black Balloon)
-Someone Please Have Sex With Me — Gina Wynbrandt (2dcloud)
-The Nameless City — Faith Erin Hicks & Jordie Bellaire (First Second)
-Boys Club – Matt Furie (Buenaventura)
-Nod Away – Joshua Cotter (Fantagraphics)
-Panther – Brecht Evens (Drawn & Quarterly)
-The Thing Itself – Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
-Nighthawk Vol. 2 – David F. Walker, Ramon Villalobos, et al (Marvel)
-Angel Catbird – Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas (Dark Horse)
-Judge Dredd Vol. 2 – Ulises Fariñas, Erick Freitas, Dan McDaid, et al (IDW)
-Lady Killer – Jaime S Rich, Joelle Jones, Laura Allred (Dark Horse)
-Mooncop – Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)
-The Vision – Tom King, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, et al (Marvel)
-Sot – Joan Cornellà (self-published)
-She Wolf – Rich Tommaso (Image)
-Archangel – William Gibson, Jackson Guice (IDW)

 
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TOP 16 of 2016:

 
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16. Becoming Unbecoming – Una (Arsenal Pulp/Self-published)
becoming unbecoming image
Aiming to explore lived experience within a socio-historical context, this beautifully drawn debut comic really strikes a chord, brilliantly tackling issues revolving around politics, feminism, psychosis, and disability. Una will undoubtedly be an important voice in comics, moving forward.

 
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15. Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus — Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly)
mary wept over the feet of jesus image
The Bible filtered through the sex-positive lens of narrative legend and master illustrator Chester Brown, who kills it (as he always does). An important book about feminism and sex work, especially keeping the source material in mind.

 
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14. Moon Knight Vol. 8 — Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood, Jordi Bellaire, Francisco Francavilla, James Stokoe, Wilfredo Torres, et al (Marvel)
moon knight
Step one: Take some of the best artists in the biz today—Smallwood, Francavilla, Stokoe, Torres—and let each draw very different genres, seemingly unconnected from each other? Step two: Take one of the most creative minds in the biz today—Lemire—and let him weave it all together. What do you get? A visual smorgasbord that seems to call-out and beckon you deeper and deeper on the journey into the fractured labyrinth of Moon Knight’s mind. Marvel Comics superheroes have very confusing backstories. And THIS is how you write a superhero that has a confusing backstory. Did I mention Stokoe? He is one of if not the most technically-gifted artist out there today. Worth the cover price just for the select pages he does, featuring werewolves in space. Dig it.

 
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13. Sugar & Spike: Metahuman Investigations  — Keith Giffen, Bilquis Evely, Ivan Plascencia (DC)

Marvel isn’t the only comic book company that has a long and confusing continuity. DC has a ton of obscure and ridiculous items on its nearly 80-year-long chronology. Giffen takes oddball 60s fluff characters Sugar and Spike and masterfully shows us what they’ve become as adults—private investigators that are so well-versed in comic book lore that they are in the exemplary position to sweep some of the superheroes’ more embarrassing continuity bits under the rug. Evely and Plascencia sleekly render some of the more ridiculous parts of DC’s history, making them feel as though they neatly fit into the contemporary world of comics. This is the kind of DC book that reminds DC fans why they love DC.

 
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12. The Mighty Thor Vol. 2 / Unworthy Thor — Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Olivier Coipel, et al (Marvel)
unworthy thor
Jason Aaron continues to be one of the best writers in mainstream comics today, continuing to mark his territory as one of the primary architects of the Marvel line. Aaron made sure that the female Thor wasn’t just a flash in the pan—and, in fact, has come to define the female Thor as THE THOR. Marvel’s ONE TRUE THOR. Oh yeah, and that other guy, the guy that USED TO BE THOR? That’s a damn good Aaron story as well. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, no one in superhero comics writes modern mythology better than Aaron does. In his Marvel, gods are superheroes and superheroes are gods. To boot, an assortment of the industry’s best illustrators and colorists have all contributed to the Thor line, adding exceptionally amazing top-notch artwork to the list of accolades these titles rightly deserve.

 
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11. Silver Surfer Vol. 8 — Dan Slott, Mike Allred, Laura Allred (Marvel)
silver surfer
Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer has been on my Best Of List ever since its debut last year. And it’s just as good as it was last year. The Allreds are the Allreds—their art is as energetic, vibrant, and delightful as it ever was. This trio of creators breathes a new fresh life into one of my favorite—if not my absolute favorite—Marvel character. The Surfer travels through some of the most interesting, bizarre, and truly fun corners of the Marvel Universe, going places that most other writers and artists dare not go, likely because they wouldn’t risk including such potentially goofy material into their modern work. However, the Slott and the Allreds are more than capable of doing just that—and they do it endearingly well. The space highways and cosmic casinos that the Surfer (and Dawn Greenwood) travail are exactly where I’d go first if I was dropped into the Marvel Universe.

 
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10. Rolling Blackouts – Sarah Glidden (Drawn & Quarterly)
rolling blackouts
Glidden’s Rolling Blackouts is an important work of journalism about journalism. Detailing the topically relevant struggles and triumphs of journalists as they go through Syria and Iraq, Glidden tells a complicated, dense story about the horrors of contemporary war (which also shows the plight of Syrians and Iraqi civilians quite well). Glidden’s stylish yet simple cartoon-work, with its light watercolor-ey pastel-ish coloring, adds an elegance and charm to a very darkly serious and complex narrative. This combination/juxtaposition helps gives a depth that make Rolling Blackouts one of the best of the year, without a doubt.

 
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9. Prophet: Earth War — Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, & Giannis Milonogiannis (Image)
prophet earth war
Prophet ended this year, and there is little if anything that I can imagine filling the void that will be left behind. Brandon Graham is a unique creator, the epitome of what it means to be “indie.” Prophet has operated as the definitive anti-mainstream comic for years running. I’ve always thought of Prophet as the evolution of monthly comic book publications into something more revolutionary, something unseen yet grounded in the roots of sci-fi, space fantasy, and superheroes at its very bottom foundation. Hopefully, Prophet has inspired new writers and illustrators alike to venture into riskier territory, to tell new stories. As a reader, it has definitely inspired me to think about and engage with comics differently.

 
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8. Monstress — Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda (Image)
monstress
There’s something undeniably sumptuous in the layouts and designs that Takeda contributes to the bizarre and often grotesque world that Marjorie Liu has constructed in Monstress. Set in an alternate post-Victorian Era matriarchy filled with brutal war, strange science fiction, and magick, Monstress falls into the category of steampunk fantasy. I can’t say that this is normally my favorite genre, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t breathtakingly layered storytelling of the highest degree, containing sturdy feminist themes as well. The world-building is impeccable—and Liu and Takeda work as a great team to flesh it all out and give life to their universe. Monstress just plain works as a comic. Strong stuff.

 
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7. Jupiter’s Circle / Jupiter’s Legacy 2 — Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, Chris Sprouse, et al (Image)
jupters legacy two
Mark Millar extends his streak of somehow always making it onto my Year End List. Say what you will about the man, but his Jupiter saga is maybe one of the best things he’s done in his long career. If folks in the future look back on his body of work with positive eyes, it’ll be because of Jupiter. It certainly doesn’t hurt that everything Frank Quitely touches turns to solid gold. Quitely does things in Jupiter that he’s never done before, and that is really saying something for such a legendary comics journeyman. Not to mention, Chris Sprouse was born to do throwback superhero stories like this. Can’t go wrong with these artists on board. Page-turning layered storytelling merged with intellectual political commentary—both in the 60s and present day—make this story something that fits neatly into the overarching Millar-mythos, but with greater depth, more focus, and restraint (when needed). A lovely continuation to an already robust arc.

 
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6. Doom Patrol Vol. 6 — Gerard Way & Nick Derington (DC)
doom patrol
I was stoked when DC announced Gerard Way’s unfortunately-titled “Young Animal” line. Pop musician by day, comic book writer by night, Way—a disciple of Grant Morrison that has grown into his own and become one of comics’ best unique voices—delivers a gut-punch that fuses aspects of prior continuity with a fresh take on an old concept. This book definitely fills the Morrison void that I’d been feeling since he stopped doing monthlies at DC. It’s irreverent, bizarre, mind-blowing, and, maybe most importantly, super fun. Nick Derington’s superb art lends itself to Way’s bonkers (yet totally in-control) narrative. Beloved characters are rendered in new but familiar form, blending awesomely with new faces that I can’t wait to get to know more. Excellent read for both fans of the old Doom Patrol and those just jumping on.

 
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5. Hot Dog Taste Test — Lisa Hanawalt (Drawn & Quarterly)
lisa hanawalt collin colsher
Lisa Hanawalt, with Hot Dog Taste Test, cements herself as one of the funniest and most-talented comic book makers working today. Off-beat and silly in all the right ways, Hot Dog Taste Test, is a stream-of-consciousness string of cartoon strips that tackle just about whatever seems to be on Hanawalt’s mind at the time. Her charming drawings and gorgeous colors come together to express in great detail all of the nooks and crannies of her mind. There’s political commentary and feminism, deep topics handled deftly with grace and aplomb, all the while sprinkled with brevity and wit, making each page accessible for all. A definite must read for 2016. Looking forward to what Hanawalt bring to the table in the future.

 
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4. Big Kids — Michael DeForge (Drawn & Quarterly)
michael deforge big kids collin colsher
No Best of the Year List is complete without a Michael DeForge comic. Big Kids is no exception. It is simultaneously moving, heartbreakingly emotional, devastating, and creepy. DeForge’s art feels both connected and detached from its narrative at the same time as well. To read DeForge is to experience a powerful drug-like effect. This coming-of-age tale reminds me of my own life, my own human experience, sweet sickly nostalgia in general—yet it is decidedly alien, extremely not-of-this-human-world all at once. DeForge has really cornered the market on this type of story-conveyance. He is unmatched, and, combined with his patented highly-stylized limited color-palette art, it makes him one of the great geniuses of the medium.

 
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3. Laid Waste — Julia Gfrörer (Fantagraphics)
laid waste
Sadly, 2016 showed us that the comics industry—both indie and mainstream—is still rife with sexism and bigotry. However, the female, trans, and queer voices made their presence powerfully felt, cutting through the bullshit. On my Top 16 List alone, there are eight female creators. This trend will hopefully continue in the future—and when it does it will be led by the brilliant Julia Gfrörer, writer and illustrator of the earth-shattering Laid Waste. In stark black and white, Laid Waste builds an ethereal world of dark magick and brutality. The art looks, at times, like an engraving or woodcut etching from an illuminated Medieval manuscript, detailing the harsh life of peasants or struggles during witch trials. This frightening glimpse into history reflects our modern day in the scariest of ways. Gfrörer is a talent to be reckoned with. Not many could handle a plague story period piece, and not many could write and draw one that makes you feel like you have contracted Black Death itself as you read it. That is ridiculously good storytelling.

 
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2. Dept. H — Matt Kindt & Sharlene Kindt (Dark Horse)
dept h kindts collin colsher kindt
I’ve talked a lot about filling gaps and filling voids on this Best Of List. And Dept. H is one of those void-fillers. I was bummed when Mind MGMT ended, and was waiting for Matt Kindt to convey something akin to that. Well, I have been floored to the bottom of the ocean with Dept. H, a stunning mystery drawn by Kindt and even more-splendidly watercolored by his wife Sharlene. This duo should make beautiful things until the end of time. Adding elements of sci-fi, murder mystery novels, Hollywood action movies (with the strong female lead!), and a healthy dose of Jacques Cousteau, Dept. H is a nail-biting and exciting read from the start to the finish of each floppy. Kindt’s ability to world-build while telling a captivating ongoing narrative is more than commendable. Sharlene breathes life into each panel, evoking a wide spectrum of emotions–from the bleak claustrophobic desperation of being trapped in a leaking vessel six miles underwater to the unbridled joy of swimming freely in the vast blue sea. Dept. H is a can’t miss title of 2016. Check it out if you haven’t already.

 
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1. House of Penance — Peter Tomasi & Ian Bertram (Dark Horse)
bertram colsher tomasi
I’ve never been to the Winchester House in San Jose, California, but now that I’ve read House of Penance, I might be to freaked-out to visit. Tomasi and Bertram team-up to tell the gothic nightmare “true story” of Sarah Winchester and her mad mansion. Haunted by ghouls that manifest in the form of a sinisterly-tangled conglomeration of dark red blood— a wave of evil tentacles flooding through corridors like in the Shining, drowning those in its path—Sarah is constantly wandering in a world of torturous surreal suspense. The blood-soaked scenery is but one of the many eerie renderings that Bertram couriers to the reader. In the school of Quitely or Stokoe, Bertram is master in his own light—definitely my favorite artist of the past two calendar years. He is a true rising star that will shine brighter than the sun. Make sure you keep your eyes (with sunglasses) on him in 2017. But not only is the art flawless, the entire concept of House of Penance is beyond cool too. It’s truly amazing that Tomasi—usually a Batman and Superman writer—and Bertram have constructed the perfect Gothic horror Western that also concurrently functions as a documentary or bio-pic about the real life Sarah Winchester. It is historical fiction of the highest degree. It’s everything I’m looking for in a title. Dark Horse really did well for itself in 2016. I’m hoping they can do well in 2017 also. Ditto for Tomasi and Bertram, who I hope collaborate again sometime.

 
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Fight

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Been a busy few months—new job, life changes, etc…

But, following the election, now dawns upon all of us the most unexpected change of all. Trump/Pence.

I’ve long turned to comic books as a form of escapism, a place to take my mind off the harshness of reality. When things got rough, the comics were always there, and always making me feel as though my problems weren’t as bad. After all, Gotham City was always more dangerous than the real world, even with Batman’s protection.

Now I’m not so sure that’s true anymore. Villains seem to have won in reality. I don’t feel safe in the real world anymore. And what especially pains me is that I don’t know how or when or even if I’ll be able to shake that unsafe feeling. I fear for my fellow People of Color, my fellow queer people, my fellow good and decent human beings, my transgendered friends and family, my own mother who was an immigrant to this country—ALL are now threatened by this administration.

But despite my fear, I’m going to stand up and fight for what’s right. And I’m going to fight for those who can’t fight. Comic book heroes are inspired by real life heroes. We can all be heroes if we fight. Let’s be active activists, sacrifice a little for the oppressed, donate your time and your money to just causes, combat all evils, protest as much as we can, use your loudest voice, and demand basic human equity for all. I hope the comic book industry does all these things too. Bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia and the like WILL NOT WIN in the end.

Be strong. Be vigilant. Be powerful.

nighthawk collin colsher walker

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What Fans Want (And Why They Can’t $eem to Get It)

batgirl birds of prey collin colsher
Recently, even the most respected online sources have been getting confused about what has been changed in the DCU due to “Rebirth.” For example, Greg Burgas at CBR thinks that all of Modern Age Birds of Prey has somehow been canonized. Where was that ever advertised or even remotely inferred? Here’s what we learn in Batgirl & The Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1: Babs became Oracle after Killing Joke, kept it a secret from Batman, and then organized a Birds of Prey team, the only confirmed member of which was Black Canary. It’s literally all right there. (Remember when some internet peeps somehow mis-read a Burnside Batgirl comic and mistakenly believed that Killing Joke was erased? Another case of “huh, what are people seeing?” I called those mis-readers out months ago. Just saying.) Moving on. Helena isn’t Modern Age Huntress. She’s New 52 Huntress, the former leader of Spyral, who knows everyone’s secret IDs. Comics Alliance has things even worse, totally not getting that Wally West is not Modern Age Wally West. It’s New 52 Triple W (White Wally West). “Rebirth,” at least so far, has NOT been a reboot or a bunch of reboots. It’s merely been a collection of jumping-on points. Although, the “Rebirth” issues function pretty poorly as jumping-on points since, one, so many comics journalists seem to be perplexed by them and, two, they continue directly from previous continuity-heavy arcs without much explanation.

Well over a month’s worth of “Rebirth” issues have been published thus far. I’ve read ’em. And guess what? THERE HAS NOT BEEN ONE SINGLE RETCON SO FAR. Nothing, not even slightly, has changed from the New 52. Nada. In fact, most of the “Rebirth” issues have solidified New 52 continuity and filled in empty gaps in New 52 history! The only time a reboot of any kind will happen (and this still isn’t a guarantee) is when the Dr. Manhattan plot-thread comes to a head. And that won’t be for a while, kids. Two years, they tells me. Oh, and for anyone claiming the “obvious,” that DC must be in a brand new rebooted universe because Amanda Waller gained a bunch of weight and went from skinny to fat overnight, I hardly think this stands as a trial-by-jury-case-resting-moment, your honor. Seriously, this is yet again more bogus story analysis from teh interwebz. And don’t get me started on Bleeding Cool, which is literally ALL bogus hot takes that don’t make a lick of sense any way you spin them. (UPDATE: There has been ONE retcon with “Rebirth.” But it’s minuscule AND it’s Scott Lobdell, so it’s barely worth mentioning. Jason Todd’s initial meeting with Batman has been changed from a pill-stealing affair back to the original Modern Age tire-stealing affair. Bear in mind, people, nearly all of Lobdell’s New 52 stuff had really funky continuity to begin with. This change is maybe the least noticeable since 2011.)

There’s a reason for the confusion, though. If you want to understand the über-narrative, you have to read ALL the stories that are published. And there are way too many. To know about New 52 Huntress, you’d have to be well-versed in Tom King’s long-running Grayson series. To know about the nitty-gritty details of New 52 Wally West’s return, you’d have to be caught up with six issues of Titans Hunt. DC, for a long while now, has been less about telling individual stories and more about building the over-arching world, more about expanding the sandbox. It’s a different beast and different mentality compared to Marvel, which is more character driven at its core. The very fact that I run such a complex and dedicated website dedicated to making sense of all this continuity muck should tell you something. The way DC Comics is structured narratively is either a red flag/warning sign, a bright and shiny Pandora’s Box that you just can’t help but open, or that welcoming sandbox full of your favorite toys. None of the options are easy. I think a lot of people want to be able to pick up a book here and there and get the gist of what’s happening. But the way DC is constructed, you really do need to read A LOT to get it.

And with that in mind, it’s no surprise that we always hear or read that fans are longing for a time when comics were easy or simple. But that’s not the real problem here. I don’t think fans really want simplicity. (Maybe they want less grim-n-gritty, but that’s a separate conversation.) After all, the 1940s were simple, and they don’t want the 1940s. Instead, the curmudgeonly fans always yearn for the 70s, 80s, or 90s. Last time I checked, comic book universes were just as confusing and time-consuming and complex in the Silver and Modern Age (if not more). The big difference: there were LESS TITLES. But it’s not about being able to compartmentalize or manage narrative. It boils down to economics. What people really want is to not have to burn a hole in their wallets.

money money collin colsher comic books

Even Burgas starts off by saying that his store credit is running low and he’s barely caught up with all the titles he needs to read to get the full picture. Burgas KNOWS his stuff inside and out. He’s got a mega-sized comic book brain. But when you have to spend a whopping wad of cash to get the whole story, it prevents even the most seasoned comics journalist from being able to properly engage with and then write about the stories. If Burgas can’t keep up, how the hell can the average fan. Capitalism is ruining comic books. We (the fans) don’t really want old comic book eras to return, either thematically or in actuality. And we don’t want simpler worlds and simpler characters. We LOVE the vast complexity of superhero comics. WE LOVE IT. The desire for something more manageable really is the desire for something more affordable.

batman iron man money fight collin colsher

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Harvey v Fairbairn: Color of Justice

collin colsher original 1980s frank miller art
The art of Frank Miller has certainly changed over the years. In the 1980s it was always highly consistent from panel to panel, containing a somewhat rigid form with stark line-work, which used prominent negative space and thick inking to evoke dark, noir-ish sentiment. Nowadays, Miller’s pencils are something much more freeform and inconsistent, more abstract and grotesque, containing an almost daringly flamboyant nonchalance. I think both styles are amazing. Miller is undoubtedly one of the great artists in comics history. And while some might label his more recent oeuvre negatively, I see it as an evolution of his style into something beautiful and fresh. Not many artists can (or try to) attempt altering their style in such a way, especially so late in the game. Yet, many people hate Miller’s art now. Maybe they are linking his gross racist politics and xenophobic beliefs to his art, but I’ve chosen to separate the artist from the man for the purposes of this stylistic analysis. There is something to their complaints, though. Miller’s recent work is hard to grasp. Could it really be… bad? Is Miller phoning it in? Or is there something else at play here?

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collin colsher superman supergirl picture frank miller sloppy art is it bad?

A few months ago, pro colorist and creator of the stupendous Bartkira Project James Harvey defended Miller’s new sloppy art style as I have, but went one step further in an attempt to silence the haters. Harvey claimed that it was DC’s lame color choices that have literally painted Miller’s new style in a negative light. Can color be that important of a factor, so important that it makes or breaks pencil-work entirely? Yes indeed, color is damn important. If you don’t think so, take a look at Emil Gustafsson Ryderup’s re-colorization of the Killing Joke movie and tell me I’m wrong. Back in the 1980s, Miller’s then wife Lynn Varley colored almost all of his projects, adding a subtle flair that breathed life into Miller’s characters and gave both depth and sophistication to his stunning pencils. But for Miller’s more recent publications, DC house colorists seem to have selected minimalism when something more garish and Warhol-ish might have better suited the inks and pencils. Similarly, with Miller’s recent works, DC house colorists seemed to go bananas with weird computerized layers when it might better have suited the covers to be toned down a bit. With this in mind, Harvey argued that Miller’s bold new style requires bold new coloring techniques that must equally be applied when appropriate. Harvey said that the only reason so many people think Miller’s new visual style sucks is because the poor coloring brings out the worst of it. Below are images (taken from Harvey’s Tumblr) of recent Frank Miller covers that show the contrast between Harvey’s own versions versus what DC actually published. Big difference, eh?

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Shortly after Harvey publicly displayed his Miller covers and gave the finger to wagged his finger at DC higher-ups, DC’s number one colorist extraordinaire Nathan Fairbairn, angrily weighed in on the controversy via Twitter, adding fuel to the fire.

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Beyond saying that Harvey was unprofessional in his critique of DC, Fairbairn pissed all over Harvey, going on to say that Harvey’s busy coloring overpowered the images, a big no-no in the professional coloring world. He also stated that legends like Miller and Neal Adams insist upon either old-school minimal coloring or the latest house-style background layering, no matter what.

In between brutally trashing Harvey, Fairbairn made some great points, which were especially insightful coming from such a respected industry insider. I love Fairbairn. He might even be a legend like Miller one day as he is certainly talented enough and has worked on the best mainstream titles with brilliant minds attached to them. But overall, his ranting list of complaints registers as petty and defensive, like someone toeing the Warner Brothers line big-time. I commend any creator that stands up to the corporate overlords, even if it is merely to make a suggestion or to try to change something teeny-tiny. Change is a good thing when it comes to the Big Two. If artists and writers don’t shake things up a little bit, this industry is dead in the water. Many fans think this industry IS ALREADY dead in the water. We need evolution and progressive thought.

Is Fairbairn right or wrong? Do busy colors overpower and ruin the integrity of the author’s original intent via pencil and inks? Last time I checked, the colors were just as important. Busy or not, overpowering or not, if it looks good then IT LOOKS GOOD. And in my humble opinion, Harvey’s covers of Miller’s recent stuff look DAMN GOOD.

As far as Miller, Adams, and all the other old codgers insisting on minimal coloring… I’m sure they all do. Fairbairn is probably right about that, I don’t doubt it. But this is where publishers and editors should step in! This is where the collaborative process should be more involved. Say what you will about the scripts, Miller and Adams are making wildly awesome books right now when it comes to the visuals. If they aren’t willing to fully commit to the wildness of their own illustrations, I think the art does suffer and does lack something. It becomes disjointed and awkward. But who am I (or any of us) to really say what should or shouldn’t be done? Once we cross that line, then we begin to take away or automatically devalue the artist’s true vision. Subjectivity comes into play as well. It’s not a 100% science we are dealing with, which leads to the heavy animosity that Fairbairn and Harvey both seem to carry on their backs.

In the end, though, I’m siding with Harvey on this one. I mean, his versions of those covers are dope as hell. Get a clue, all you corporate stooges at Warners and Disney. The future is now. And it’s not just a kaleidoscope of technicolor, it’s about widening the creative eye to apply color with as much careful thought and deliberation as the rest of the team that scripts, pencils, inks, letters, and does breakdowns and layouts. Fairbairn, as one of the brilliant leaders (and genuine visionaries) of the comic book world of coloring, should be embracing revolutionary shake-ups instead of feeling threatened by them. And even if we agree to disagree, surely a more civil dialogue between talented artists could spawn new paradigms, and that in and of itself would be beneficial to the medium. My hope, moving forward, is for all mainstream comic book creators and publishers to be open to at least acknowledging alternate perspectives.

wonder woman collin colsher james harvey

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Continuity Matters!

Often, superhero fans overlook comic book continuity as something that only hardcore fanboy nerds are interested in, something that “isn’t important as long as a good story is being told.” I’ve always disagreed. Continuity IS story. Without it, even in non-serialized narrative or a single short story, things fall apart. Rarely, however, do I think about just how important continuity is BEYOND simple matters of canon, storytelling, and reader comprehension. But continuity truly is more than just having a coherent timeline or “making sense of stories.” A lack of continuity in a shared-universe, as we’ll see below, has the potential to conjure up egregiously offensive sociopolitical, sexual, or racial trespasses.

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Batman #43. Alfred makes an impassioned and violent (kryptonite) plea to Superman.

In case you didn’t already know, Bruce Wayne was recently stricken with complete amnesia and lost all of his memories in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s “Endgame” story arc. Of course, this is comics we are talking about and any kind of loss always has a status-quo lever ready to be pulled at any moment. All of Bruce’s memories are conveniently stored in a failed cloning machine that he tried and failed to get off the ground. Here steps in Alfred Pennyworth—Bruce’s butler, yes, but for decades running, more of a legitimate father figure to him. Alfred is faced with a choice. He can have his son Bruce, for the first time ever, live a normal happy life with a loving wife and a job that gives back to the community—and with no knowledge of having been Batman. Or he can return Bruce’s memories so he can continue being Batman to protect Gotham, albeit with all the dark, tragic baggage that comes along with being an obsessed vigilante.

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Batman #43. “Let him live, Mr. Kent.”

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Batman #43. “Let someone else suffer…”

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Batman #48. Hear no evil.

Snyder’s Alfred (in Batman Vol. 2) emphatically decides that Bruce shouldn’t be Batman. His only focus is on making sure that Bruce never remembers and is able to live a happy life. He doesn’t care about Batman’s mission at all. Lee Bermejo’s Alfred (in We Are Robin), on the other hand, seems to have a primary focus on making sure that any void left behind, due to the absence of Batman, gets filled with a powerful force capable of protecting Gotham at any cost. This feeling is so strong that Alfred clandestinely organizes and supplies an army of mostly lower to middle class teenagers to become a gang of overnight superheroes. Now, one could argue that Alfred would want to do both of these things: protect the city, save and spare your son who has put in his time. These are both admirable things that surely can be done side-by-side. I totally concur. However, Snyder’s Batman only barely references We Are Robin in the most cursory fashion and not via Alfred at all. Likewise, Bermejo’s We Are Robin operates as if it has no knowledge of what is to come in Batman, featuring Alfred heavily, but failing to reference any of his thoughts regarding Bruce’s future. Therein lies the problem that causes things to get seriously messed up. Alfred’s dilemma is handled by two different writers putting out two different (but simultaneous) titles: Snyder in Batman Vol. 2 and Bermejo in We Are Robin. Alfred, while characterized nicely in both titles, clearly has a different mindset in each.

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Batman #49. Alfred makes a final plea to Batman before his return.

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We Are Robin #1. Alfred, meticulous war planner.

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We Are Robin #1. Alfred’s war, comprised of young people “of color.” No pun here.

When you merge the narratives of Batman Vol. 2 and We Are Robin together—and you should because they literally GO TOGETHER to tell the complete story—you have an Alfred who vehemently doesn’t want to put Bruce back in danger (in Snyder’s Batman), but who simultaneously arms and trains dozens of youngsters he doesn’t know to go into that very same danger zone (in Bermejo’s We Are Robin). The only other place on the web besides disCONTINUITY that has touched on the problems spawned by this brutal contradiction is the brilliant Tumblr blog “Next Stop: Immolation Station.” That’s just two sites (as far as I am aware), so it just goes to show that this aspect of continuity gets almost little to no attention even though it’s pretty damn important.

We Are Robin #2. Alfred, in disguise, coerces his newest soldier into fighting Bruce's war.

We Are Robin #2. Alfred, in disguise, coerces his newest soldier into fighting Bruce’s war.

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We Are Robin #5. Alfred’s propaganda machine sells the war.

Maybe you could play Devil’s Advocate and argue that Alfred’s mentality changed somewhat following both the death of Troy Walker and the “Robin War,” meaning that Alfred’s stance on how to act after Bruce’s amnesia changes due to the pressure he is under. But a major fact that nullifies the Devil’s Advocation is that Alfred covertly supports—and, by default, encourages—the former Robin Gang members, again many of whom are products of a very low socioeconomic class, all throughout Snyder’s entire run. This paints a very offensive picture, where a super-privileged White vigilante opts to step out of the line of fire and substitute Child Soldiers of Color instead. How was this seemingly glaring ugliness allowed to appear in the pages of DC Comics? As always, it has everything to do with bad continuity—with writers and editors not communicating with each other.

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We Are Robin #5. “I will guide you. Train you.”

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We Are Robin #5. Alfred’s vision of poor minorities fulfilling the violent dream that Batman has forgotten about.

The story of Bruce having lost his memories and Alfred deciding how to deal with it is a complicated tale that can be told from many different angles. Here we have two very distinct directions from two very different but clearly talented writers. Alfred is a beast of a certain nature in Snyder’s story arc whereas he is quite the opposite in Bermejo’s story arc. Snyder’s Alfred is the loving father figure with a desperate but pure heart. Bermejo’s Alfred is the stalwart defender of the city, dedicated to the cause of a fallen comrade. These two versions of Alfred are both correct versions of the character based upon what we’ve come to know over the course of decades. So neither Snyder nor Bermejo are at fault for highlighting those traits specifically. Snyder’s and Bermejo’s stories, when they stand alone, are actually both very compelling, especially when it comes to Alfred’s emotional plight. But when the two versions align as part of the same post-“Endgame” narrative, not only do characterization contradictions arise, something much more disconcerting occurs as well. Narratively speaking, the lack of communication between Snyder and Bermejo (and their editors) has turned the normally benevolent, paternal, and affable Alfred Pennyworth into a schizophrenic and deviously conniving Right Wing maniac. This hypocritical sick Army Dad needs to keep the fight alive at any cost and with any strangers that are willing (or persuadable), but he’ll be damned if it is his own kin’s flesh and blood being spilled out on the streets. But hey, Alfred’s an emotional fella who’s gone through a lot of shit, eh? Sheesh.

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We Are Robin #6. Alfred, badass leader of the new child soldier war, Michael Bay style.

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We Are Robin #11. Bruce is back, but here is confirmation that I’ve been boldly leading you this whole time whilst crying about him. (I also realize these captions seem to make fun of We Are Robin, but in all honestly We Are Robin is stronger than Snyder’s Batman IMO.)

But beyond bearing directly upon character development, narrative flow, and plot-holes, this is a prime example of just how important continuity really is when it comes to serialized storytelling. Bad continuity can turn something innocuous into something highly offensive i.e. racist, classist, sexist, etc… Bad continuity can even turn a great set of stories into an objectionable nightmare when combined. Continuity means responsibility and accountability when it comes to writing. CONTINUITY MATTERS!

And if you think “Continuity Matters” bears too clear of a resemblance to Black Lives Matter, you aren’t wrong. The parallel is blunt for a reason. Just as Black Lives Matter champions a world free of racial injustice, Continuity Matters—if imagined as an activist movement for comic books—speaks to the idea that there should be more accountability on the part of writers and editors to create a better world of fiction similarly devoid of racism and all the other evil isms. Obviously, the reality and gravity of Black Lives Matter far outweighs anything having to do with the far-less-sociopolitical and far-less-serious arena of the superhero comic. But anytime we can eliminate impediments to prosperity or oppression in any realm of life we make the whole world a better place.

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Rebirth: Zero Hour of the New Age

In 1994, DC soft-rebooted its line with Zero Hour, only six years after Crisis on Infinite Earths fully-rebooted the entire company. Despite containing some pretty heavy-handed changes, they were mostly cosmetic. And the alterations that were more serious would go onto be ignored by most writers and eventually revert back to status quo anyway.

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DC’s summer Rebirth event is essentially the new Zero Hour. It is a soft reboot that will continue where the New 52’s continuity ends. Sure, it will attempt to appease some fans of the Modern Age by incorporating aspects of that era. But for anyone already deciding to treat the timeline as brand new, I think that is a ludicrous idea. We don’t even know for sure if anything from the New 52 will actually be fully changed (or erased). Let’s take a look at some of the early Rebirth announcements and predict how they will affect continuity.

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Batgirl’s recent Burnside history remains, as does The Killing Joke (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise). Rumor has it that her time as Oracle will be reinserted to appease fans. I personally think this is a bad idea, but if it is done it shouldn’t affect much New 52 canon. After all, there never was mention of her as Oracle, but there never was anything stating outright that she wasn’t either.

We know for certain that Superman will die before Rebirth, paving the way for Modern Age Superman—who already exists in New 52 continuity—to take his place. This, to me, is one of the most fascinating aspects of Rebirth. I’m looking forward to how this will be handled. While some might view it as an absolute return to ultimate status-quo by simply replacing a current in-the-works Superman with a previous and tested model, it actually is a truly radical departure from anything that’s happened with such a major player in comics before. The way some fans will view it—and the way I am choosing to view it—is that the main-line Earth-0 Superman (i.e. THE one true blue Superman) is being killed off and replaced by an alternate (read “secondary”) version of the character. As far as continuity and narrative both go, Modern Age Superman, while having a ton of history on his side, is still technically an alternate “copy” of the original. He’s an out-an-out doppelgänger. Hell, his banishment to the New 52 happened via Convergence and his kid was born in Convergence, which means the single biggest aspects of his life at the moment both came from something quite stupid and nonsensical. For many fans, especially newer fans, the one-and-only REAL Superman is being ditched for some alt-faker. And they ain’t wrong! This is a big deal. I wonder how long until the CORRECT Man of Steel (New 52 Superman) returns?

Moving on. Helena Bertinelli will supposedly leave Spyral to join the Birds of Prey. This might mean that Spyral becomes defunct before Rebirth. Stay tuned to Grayson to see what happens.

Speaking of Grayson, that series’ conclusion will determine exactly how Dick leaves Spyral, gains his secret ID back (via Somnus Satellite mind-wiping technology), and returns to his Nightwing persona for Rebirth.

Two-Face is returning, which means a resurrection from the dead. Or a retcon. Or a reveal that he never killed himself in the pages of Batman & Robin. After all, Tomasi and Gleason never showed the body after his apparent suicide. Tomasi did confirm Two-Face’s death in interviews, but as the old adage goes: “No body, no death.”

As far as other supporting characters around the DCU, most (if not all) are continuing right where the New 52 will leave off, with all of their New 52 histories intact. This goes for Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, Wally West, Black Canary, and Donna Troy. For anyone that thinks Titans Hunt contradicts Donna Troy’s origin in the pages of the Finches’ Wonder Woman—where donna was seemingly formed out of clay by an evil occult ritual—they just aren’t getting it. Titans Hunt tells us that Donna was around as a hero before the Titans were mind-wiped from the collective memory of the entire world. Titans Hunt shows us what happened to most of the Titans from that point, but it very specifically does not show us what happened to Donna Troy. This is because she disappears. The occult ritual “birthing” scene in Wonder Woman isn’t actually a birth—it is a resurrection or summoning.

Terry McGinnis coming back to Batman Beyond should be interesting. Does he come back from the dead (“Batman Beyond THE GRAVE”)? Will Batman Beyond detail the canon adventures of Terry before his time-jaunt and death (in Futures End)? Or will Batman Beyond return to being an out-of-continuity title? Any of these things could happen.

The insertion of the old Justice Society of America into the history of the DCU proper is problematic. Will this be done with yet another mind-wipe explanation? That’s getting very trite. The New 52 has included various metahumans, supernaturals, and aliens involved in its WWII past—from WRAITH to Enemy Ace to the Creature Commandos to Sergeant Rock and company—but the JSA has never been mentioned. More specifically, the entire idea of the New 52 is that Batman and Superman were the first two legit superheroes, having taken influence from many things, but definitely NOT from the JSA, which never existed.

Wonder Woman is problematic as well. Rumor has it that she will be getting a new origin. Will it resemble her origin in the upcoming film? Or will it be a slightly tweaked version of her New 52 origin? After all, Greg Rucka, who was responsible for her New 52 origin in the first place, is returning to the title. I would imagine that he wouldn’t mess with his own prior narrative too drastically. Suffice to say, any change would likely require small caveats or tiny retcons that hopefully wouldn’t disrupt the history of the timeline too much. Another rumor attached to Rucka’s Wonder Woman is that it will occur ten years after the debut of the New 52 (i.e. ten years after the debuts of Batman and Superman). This would put the entire continuing DCU timeline in Year Ten, which is odd since 2016 is technically Year Nine. (Even Batman Vol. 2 #51, which is setting things up big-time for post-Rebirth has a character refer to Batman’s opening “Court of Owls” arc as having happened “five years ago.” Yes, “five years ago” was 2011, when “Court of Owls” was published and the New 52 began, but in narrative story-time, the “Court of Owls” arc happened four years ago. If this goes down as such, my timeline might need to be slightly adjusted. Is this the beginnings of a poorly-constructed sliding-timescale? Oof. I sure hope not. More realistically, this is likely more terribly bogus specificity in regard to the hallmark DC “five year” mentions that they love oh so much. Don’t do it!

I’m still convinced that Rebirth won’t act as a real reboot, erasing everything before to start from scratch, especially only five years after the New 52 began. But if I were to play Devil’s Advocate and support the idea that Rebirth is a full reboot, my argument would revolve around Wonder Woman and the JSA. We’ll see.

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No matter what, fanwanking comicbookpeople are always going to have their own headcanon and fanon. And editors and creators will be targeted for online assassination over and over again. Debates will surely begin and will surely heat up to boiling temperatures. The puzzle pieces will be scattered onto the sandbox floor. (Am I mixing comicbook metaphors?) Continuity conundrums will arise, but ain’t that half the fun? It’s been a while since these darn “graphic novels” were fun. I welcome the change and I’m excited for Rebirth. This could go a lot of ways and, for once in mainstream comicbookland, that is quite refreshing.

Before I say goodbye, let me close with an injection of truth serum. Not that I’ve been fibbing or sugar-coating, but my excitement for what is to come emanates from my usual cheery disposition and half-glass-full optimism. I mean, exactly how refreshing can a soft-reboot—so shortly after a full-reboot, led by Geoff Johns, and with DiDio and Lee still piloting the ship—really be? The “Lemonade” of corporate comics? Likely not. Big ideas tho. This team of leaders has cultivated strange times for one half of the Big Two. Shelly Bond gone—bummer. Eddie Berganza still around—huge bummer. Gerard Way’s in-continuity Vertigo-esque line—coming in the Fall and should be excellent. Something volcanic is stirring just under the surface. Until we meet again, ta ta for now.

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Batman & Robin Eternal: Series Review

Better late than never, disCONTINUITY brings to you a series review of Batman & Robin Eternal, the sequel to last year’s mess, Batman Eternal. With expectations low, Batman & Robin Eternal surely had to have been better, right? Let’s dive right in with reviewers COLLIN COLSHER and PARAMVIR SINGH RANDHAWA.

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B&R Eternal #1

COLLIN:

First, a look at the art. Despite being narratively awful, Batman Eternal has an edge over Batman and Robin Eternal in regard to art. While inconsistent, the first series featured a bunch of star artists doing their best illustrations from week-to-week. B&R Eternal‘s art was underwhelming, especially with Paul Pelletier, Fernando Pasarin, and Scott Eaton getting a lot of work. B&R Eternal is even more inconsistent and sloppy then Eternal One, especially towards with some of the fill-ins—multiple artists are filling in as early as issue #5, and it shows. But in the title’s defense, any time you have a weekly schedule to stick to, the art will always suffer. Overall, Tony Daniel, Roge Antonio, Alvaro Martinez, Marcio Takara, and Fernando Blanco shine as the best pencilers and I can’t complain about Gabe Eltaeb and John Rauch’s colors. I know Singh and I share the same thoughts on the art matter, so I won’t step on his toes more than I already have.

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B&R Eternal #18, art by Scott Eaton


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B&R Eternal #18, art by Scott Eaton (the ugliest Dick Grayson you’ll ever see)

SINGH:

The best way to describe the artwork of Batman & Robin Eternal would be: imagine Ludacris’ dog ate one of his diamond chains. In the dog’s crap you’re going to have mostly crap but there’ll be these diamond studs. Those studs are Tony Daniel’s pencils, which end up drowning in the midst of the terrible and inconsistent artwork usually given with this series. Remember Helena’s face during most of the St. Hadrian’s arc? She looked more like Bruce Banner than she did Helena Bertinelli.

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B&R Eternal #19, art by Paul Pelletier

Art can be improved for future weekly series if DC utilizes a “cyclical approach.” If they hope to make each issue’s art look polished, then they have to treat each issue like they would a monthly: the first issue of the month goes to one artist, and then the first issue of next month goes to the same artist as well. Of course this requires scripts to completed much faster and the only solution is that series should be completely planned out months before release. Writers and editors should not be contemplating a series’ conclusion while in the middle of writing issue #3—everything should already be planned out beforehand. This would make it easier on the artists. And say there’s a plot point that inadvertently gains traction; changing the series so that plot point gains more traction should not be difficult because you know where you can divert your story’s vision and where you cannot afford to sacrifice. To re-iterate, my suggestion for comic book companies, in regard to future weeklies, is to stop writing them like so much stuff you see on TV and instead start writing them more like most monthlies or films. Then the art would surely improve across the board.

COLLIN:

While the weak weekly week-to-week art left us feeling a little flat, Batman and Robin Eternal trumps Batman Eternal in every sense of narrative development. The first series was shit, constantly falling to pieces and shark-jumping, while this one holds together decently. It helps, of course, that the second series was half as long as the first. The same temporal-logic problems, seen in the original series, have crept up with B&R Eternal as well, though. It just doesn’t mesh with the other stories that are happening around the DCU, especially with Grayson and, to a certain extent, Batman—which is ridiculous because both of those series’ head writers worked on B&R Eternal.

I’m surprised that Snyder never lost some credibility with a bomb like the original Eternal, but I guess it is easy to pass blame when you are with a team of co-conspirators. Plus, he’s pretty beloved by fanboys. I was secretly hoping that Snyder would have lost some credibility after Eternal because then it would have exposed his general weaknesses as a writer and maybe lessened the power he had as a “main architect” of the Bat-line. But anyway, Eternal Two was hands-down way better than Eternal One primarily because it captured the Robin boys in a heartfelt way. And it did so within the confines of the tight New Age timeline. Cassie Cain and Jean-Paul Valley are back and Harper’s secret past is explained. Also Cullen Row and MIDNIGHTER in the Fam! The Bat Family is definitely swollen, but it feels RIGHT. Heart and charm both go a long way in comics. Well done.

My other favorite thing about B&R Eternal is that it functions as a direct sequel to Snyder’s “Zero Year.” The flashbacks from B&R Eternal are literally Snyder’s (et al) “Year One.” I dig it. If Snyder has been one of the main quarterbacks/architects of the New 52—and he definitely has been for Batman—then this was him attempting to shore up continuity and shut up the haters. I’ll admit, he really succeeds in this regard.

Mother is an excellent psychological foil for Batman in Year One—the person that is a catalyst for both the creation of more Bat-kids AND causing Batman to question his use of children on his own war on crime. (This last thing is something that was never explored enough in previous comic book eras, which I’m SO glad to see done fairly well in B&R Eternal.) Mother’s actions also help explain how/why, despite the timeline being so short, there could be so many young heroes and “intern” Robins. B&R Eternal very specifically shores-up shakier aspects of the new timeline, helping us to not only suspend our disbelief, but to buy into the idea that there might have been multiple Robins in only a few years.

HOWEVER, Mother as a current villain is weak. Year One, great, but Year Eight, not so much. My biggest gripe with B&R Eternal (besides the aforementioned continuity issues and some of the art, which I will get into below) is the creation of yet another decades-active super-villain that lurks in the shadows, operating a clandestine secret society. This has been done, and recently, numerous times. Mother uses brainwashed child soldiers; both Leviathan and Court of Owls did it. Mother nearly fucks up the world and nearly leaves Gotham in ruins; both Leviathan and Court of Owls did it. (Oh, not to mention, Snyder pens Mr. Bloom to do it immediately after Mother as well, and using a semi-brainwashed army of citizens too.) It is ludicrously trite (and boring). It’s just like the South Park episode “Simpsons Did It.”

B&R Eternal #9

B&R Eternal #9

SINGH:

I agree, Mother is a weak villain for Batman in his eighth year of operations, especially with the entire Family after her. In the flashbacks she worked, especially with the moral dilemma. I found that David Cain functioned as a better antagonist than she did in the main storyline and that’s kind of a surprising thing. He was a better threat, had more motivation and could have been turned into a villain of Shakespearian levels had more emphasis been placed on him. I personally would have had Mother be the villain for the flashbacks and Cain that of the main storyline, since that is where they both worked best. B&R Eternal also should have avoided the entire Gotham City is under attack… again. I can imagine living in Gotham, talking to somebody and saying, “Remember when Leviathan took over the kids? You think Mr. Bloom’ll do that too or is it too soon after Mother’s attack?”

B&R Eternal definitely has a better narrative sense than Batman Eternal because it does not have to insert filler issues, where story happens for sake of story. Instead it is able to use its shorter length to give characters nice arcs while also utilizing the past in an effective way (even though it fell apart around the end). While I still don’t really enjoy Tynion too much as a writer, he has certainly buckled down on improving the weak narratives that previously existed in most of his stories that weren’t three-page backup features.

B&R Eternal handled the concept of Batman’s child soldiers extremely well by pushing it away from what we see in The Dark Knight Returns and other Frank Miller stories, but while still respectfully referencing Miller’s work at the same time. I love The Dark Knight Returns—I still say it is one of the best Batman stories of all time. But here’s the thing, though: characters must evolve over time. Miller’s Batman was certainly needed and foundational, but many new stories today approach their narratives in either one of two ways: 1) continuing with a version of Miller’s Batman or 2) evolving the character into something fresh (as Miller himself was doing in the 1980s). B&R Eternal takes the latter route and does it well. B&R Eternal shows Batman struggling with the idea that the Robins he trains make him no better than, say, an African warlord who makes child soldiers fight for him. This is a thoughtful evolution of the character that is beneficial to both he and his kids, as opposed to what we see in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which did not evolve or grow its characters, but copied Miller’s ideas instead. I won’t lie, I really liked Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but you can clearly see Zack Snyder’s love for Ayn Rand in it all throughout and, from that, you can tell that his Batman is ripped out of the pages of The Dark Knight Returns. The idea of evolution is what makes the final scene in B&R Eternal so poignant to me; Batman rushing off into the night to stop criminals with the Robins. They are his Family as opposed to his soldiers—a thoughtful direction that does not devalue that which has come before it.

As for the portrayals of the main characters, I thought Dick Grayson and Jason Todd were both handled wonderfully. Tim Drake fell a little flat at times, especially his whole bit with Azrael. Reinventions of characters like Azrael and David Cain were done well for the most part—I mean I’d rather they have gone with Jean-Paul Valley’s original hairstyle, but that’s a minor point.

B&R Eternal #10

B&R Eternal #10

COLLIN:

Batman & Robin Eternal made me understand the New Age more. And it even made me respect and believe in the New Age more. (The total opposite of Batman Eternal.) I’m still not a Scott Snyder fan, but Tynion, Seeley, and Orlando killed it here. Not sure how much Valentine, Lanzing, Kelly, or Brisson contributed. And not sure how much of B&R Eternal‘s “quality” can be attributed to Snyder. I’m sure Snyder was point-man and orchestrated many of the bigger story-beats, but from what I understand, Tynion, Seeley, and Orlando had a lot of input. No matter the case, B&R Eternal might be some of Snyder’s best work to date. I still say defiantly and adamantly that the dude has never written anything truly worth a damn on his own—and this includes his entire mind-bogglingly and undeservingly praised run on Batman for the past five years. But I digress. Singh usually knows more about how the writing work collaboratively functions on these team-authored weeklies, so I’m curious to see his opinion and learn what he knows about the distribution of story in B&R Eternal. What do you think, astute colleague of mine?

SINGH:

The way the story distribution was handled in B&R Eternal was probably better than it was handled in last year’s Eternal, but still not like it was handled during The New 52: Futures End—which I maintain would have become one of the best weekly series had it not ended like it did. I still got the nagging sense that each of these writers tried to tell their own story which often ended up being bogged down by the narrative. Again, Orlando and Tynion were not bogged down, but Valentine and Lanzig’s issues did not feel as connected as they could have been. Just like Batman Eternal, this was not the collaborative process that it could have been, but was much better than expected.

Since Batman & Robin Eternal focused on the Robins in the present and Batman in the past, this weekly series was given the breathing room to amount to more than just a prequel to Snyder’s next big Batman story. It became its own strong and independent story. While I would not call it a masterpiece, I would give it a strong B since it certainly was an enjoyable ride.

B&R Eternal #26

B&R Eternal #26

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