An end of year review. Sort of…
DC Comics lost its way pretty comprehensively in 2018. Doomsday Clock was delayed and then went to a two-monthly shipping; Dark Nights Metal was also delayed and largely squandered the promise of its early issues, delivering an underwhelming and unsatisfying conclusion. The New Age of Heroes line was launched on the back of Metal. Its artist-centred approach was proven to be nothing more than a marketing gimmick when most of the ‘top’ artists that received first billing on the comics’ covers left a couple of issues into their runs (or, in the case of Ryan Sook, two-thirds of the way through the first issue!). On top of that, the individual titles were, on the whole, less than impressive and failed to capture the interest of comic buyers to any great degree.
Then, there’s Black Label. Billed as an opportunity for creators to present stories that were both more adult in tone and free of having to follow DC regular continuity (not that that’s much of a thing these days anyway), the line launched with Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Batman: Damned, which sold bucketloads largely on the strength of Bruce Wayne’s penis making an appearance. The issue itself was, though featuring beautiful art, something of a mess. The mess got messier, however, when DC decided that, despite billing Black Label as an ‘adult’ line of books, a Bat-penis was too much and subsequently erased the offending member for its digital edition of the book and refused to reprint the hard copy despite the first printing selling out. The impression that DC doesn’t entirely know what it’s doing with its properties was difficult to shake.
Gerard Way’s Young Animals imprint ended with a whimper; Aquaman spent most of the year becalmed in a story that progressed with all the speed of an ancient, overladen tug struggling into port. Brian Michael Bendis’ The Man of Steel, though readable enough, never came close to matching the impact or sheer joy of its John Byrne-created 1980s namesake. And Tom King gave us a wedding that wasn’t and continues his deconstruction of arguably DC’s most iconic character in a way that continues to divide fans. The less said about his Heroes in Crisis the better.
It might come as a surprise, then, to learn that I’m actually quite optimistic about DC in 2019. Here are five reasons why…
1. Morrison and Sharp on The Green Lantern.
Grant Morrison is back, baby! I understand that Morrison is a divisive figure among comic fans, but the guy knows how to write and is never short of ideas. Giving him the chance to do his thing with an established character, who arguably hasn’t quite touched the heights of greatness since Geoff Johns left the book during its New 52 run, seems like a no-brainer to me. Add in the really quite incredible Liam Sharp and you’ve got the prospect of a bona fide hit on your hands.
It’s early days yet, but the two issues that have come out so far have fizzed and bubbled with typical Morrison-esque invention and panache. From sentient flu Lanterns to spider pirates to luck dials to a Lantern with a miniature exploding volcano for a head there is enough visual and conceptual richness to keep even the most jaded sci-fi comic book fan happy. But Morrison is not just an ideas man. Linking the different concepts together is the police procedural tone that sees Hal Jordan communicate and co-operate with a range of other Lanterns who, despite their wildly different physical appearances, share a somewhat hardbitten dour professionalism. And Morrison finds time for powerful character moments, too. Issue 2 at least partly follows the fate of Evil Star and the final scene between him and Hal Jordan is really rather beautifully written.
And then there’s Liam Sharp, too. If you thought his Wonder Woman stuff was great, you really should check out his work on The Green Lantern. Again, there’s a richness to his world-building, an eye for detail that presents the galaxy as a fecund, extraordinarily diverse place. His work is phenomenal and complements Morrison’s grand, slightly insane vision perfectly.
2. Scott Snyder’s Justice League
Now, I’m admittedly not up to date on this title at the moment, so it may have gone well and truly off the rails at the time of writing, but the initial handful of issues of this title delivered the kind of bold, inventive storytelling that has generally been lacking in a book that should be a flagship title for the DC line. Snyder’s bringing back the Legion of Doom in the context of a run that is rich in super-science and dire premonitions of universal catastrophe is an inspired move. Central to this is Lex Luthor who, after years of not quite fulfilling the promise of his turn to ‘good’ after Forever Evil, returns to full-on super-intelligent villain mode and it is glorious. While arguably there are too many new ideas being thrown at us (source wall breaking, seven hidden forces, etc etc), there’s an awful lot of fun to be had here and, for the first time in a long while, a genuine sense of peril for league members. At the moment, I’m on board and looking forward to where we go to in 2019.
We had a trailer for the movie and one issue, but, my, what an issue it was! While his work on Doomsday Clock continues to impress on a technical level, Geoff Johns has reminded us in the first issue of this comic just how good a writer of characters he is. This series follows on from the one that ran in back-ups in Geoff Johns’ Justice League run in the New 52 and it is a refreshing alternative to the more serious, doom-laden tone that a lot of the DC Universe has assumed this year. The warmth between the characters and the affection that the writer clearly has for them are only part of what makes that first issue so impressive, though. While there is a lot of dialogue, there’s also a real sense of discovery and wonder as the newly-empowered Marvel family begin to investigate the secrets of the Rock of Eternity. Plus, there’s that Dale Eaglesham art, too! I’m very excited to see where this series takes us in 2019.
4. Deathstroke continues…
… and I’m so glad it does. While the Deathstroke/Batman arc was an entertaining diversion from the main series, Slade Wilson in Arkham is proving to be an intriguing and surprising story, and showcases the strengths of Priest’s meticulous plotting. The book is telling a satisfyingly interconnected story and the ramifications of revelations from much earlier in the run are still being explored in this arc. Priest’s flair for the dramatic and poignant is on full display here. The Arkham inmates chanting that Slade is “one of us” (an echo of the 1930s horror classic ‘Freaks’) before delivering him to Hugo Strange is extraordinarily powerful, for example. Anyone who has enjoyed Priest’s Black Panther run should really be reading this. It is a unique and wonderfully satisfying series and I’m delighted that we’re going to get more of it in 2019.
One of the better things to come out of Dark Nights Metal, the Hawkman book has been a very enjoyable journey through the DC universe. The premise of the series is basic enough: in order to unlock the mystery of an apocalyptic vision of giant winged figures laying waste to the Earth, Hawkman must investigate his own history, which, seeing as he’s been reincarnated several hundred times and, he’s just found out, not just on Earth but on different worlds and realities, involves more than just a trip to the local library.
While writer Robert Venditti keeps the plot moving briskly and doesn’t allow things to get too bogged down in exposition, much of the book’s success is down to artist Bryan Hitch’s extraordinary layouts and perspectives. I hope the two are able to keep the book going well beyond 2019. It’s adventurous, fun and visually impressive.
On the whole, I would say that DC did more wrong than right in 2018, but I think it’s only fair to point out its successes. There are encouraging signs that the company’s beginning to remember that comics can be fun as well as darkly brooding and tiresomely intense angst-fests. We can but hope. Which is, after all, what the prospect of a New Year should be about!