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Dead Universes (part I): Reading Dead Universes

defiantA few years ago I had an itch to reread the Dark Dominion series from Defiant Comics. Not having my original issues readily available I went to ebay to see if I could get them at a reasonable price. Plugging “Defiant Comics” into the search led me to a vendor selling not only every issue of Dark Dominion, but nearly every single issue published by Defiant between 1993 and 1994 for $30. My pulse quickened as I realized I could own a nearly complete universe. He was only missing the two issues of Prudence & Caution and the Warriors of Plasm and Dark Dominion zero issues.

It was easy enough to track down Prudence & Caution, but the zero issues come as a series of trading cards that puzzle together when placed in order in a binder. There were vendors on ebay selling the fully collected trading cards complete in binders, but while searching I came across someone selling six boxes of Warriors of Plasm cards and four boxes of Dark Dominion cards. The price for all 10 unopened boxes was $20 which at the time seemed like a smart purchase.

When adjusted for inflation everything I purchased (not including the multiple boxes of trading cards) would have cost me more than $220 in 1994.  I only had to spend a little more than $50 so I could read the storyline of an entire shared universe. Having this revelation I realized if I could do it with Defiant I could very likely do it with the other mothballed universes from the 90s.

Some quick googling showed me I wasn’t alone. There’s a vibrant forum dedicated to Dead Universes at Valiantfans.com and a number of blogs documenting efforts to collect entire universes. The magnitude of collecting universes varies. Some collectors are only seeking to have a complete storyline. Others are trying to acquire all of the variant covers and ashcans. On the more extreme end are collectors collecting everything related to the publisher’s universe from action figures to promotional swag to television pilots.

Personally, I’m mostly interested in collecting for the purpose of reading the stories of these universes. Tragically, most have never been collected into trades and in many cases legal kerfuffles make the likelihood they ever will slim at best. That means mining ebay and long boxes at comic shops for the lowest priced floppies.

Of course, Dead Universes stretch all the way back to the Golden Age. For my own personal sanity I’ve limited my current reading to universes that were launched and started to fade between 1991 and 1995. This includes, but is not limited to, Defiant, Malibu’s Ultraverse, Comics Greatest World, and Valiant.

Related Links:

Dead Universes Part 2: Best Practices

Dead Universes Part 3: Choosing a Reading Order

Dead Universes Part 4: Defiant Comics

Dead Universes (prologue): A time traveler finds holes in the multiverse

This was intended to be a one or two paragraph introduction to a series I’m working on regarding Dead Universes of the 90s. It’s possible I got a little carried away.

If a time traveler leaps from January 1995 to January 2012 and walked into a comic book shop she’d likely at first think very little had changed. DC and Marvel are still the top dogs while the logos of Dark Horse and Image continue to command a decent amount of shelf space.

The first thing she might notice is all of the numbering on DC’s titles are very low; shouldn’t Action Comics be nearing 900 around now? DC is still publishing the Vertigo imprint, but Animal Man and Swamp Thing seem to be absorbed back into the the primary DC continuity. Missing from the racks: Sandman, Doom Patrol, the Invisibles, and Shade, the Changing Man. She’d note that Hellblazer is still running, but John Constantine (and Shade) now appear to be part of something called Justice League Dark.

Continuing her observation she’d likely start to notice some holes where universes used to be. Dark Horse’s attempt at a shared superhero universe, Comics’ Greatest World, doesn’t have any representation on the shelf (Ghost would grace the cover of Dark Horse Presents... five months later). Defiant, which held so much promise when she left 1994, nowhere to be seen. Marvel had just purchased the Ultraverse characters right before she hit the time stream, but they’re missing from the shelves and don’t appear to have been absorbed into the Marvel Universe. Her beloved Valiant, which was doing so well when she left and had many titles were on a two-issue per month schedule, completely absent (X-O Manowar would reintroduce a new Valiant Universe in May).

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Searching for “The Immaterial Girl”

I was scrolling through my tumblr last night and arrived on a teaser I had very excitedly posted for the next story in Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen’s Phonogram Universe called “The Immaterial Girl.” The teaser was from February of 2012 and 19 months later it still hasn’t hit shelves. Out of curiosity, I did some very simple googling and the last official mention of the book was in September of last year on the Phonogram website:

“The bad news is that PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL won’t be happening this year. We were holding back from mentioning it, in hope we’d be able to make a better prediction of when the story will drop. But, due to a variety of other things, we still don’t know. We’re pretty sure it’ll be 2013. I’ll be highly surprised if it’s in the first half. What happened? Basically, life happened. ‘Scheduling issues’ and all that. Sorry we can’t be more specific. And we’re sorry we announced it as early as we did.”

I adore Phonogram, but also know that McKelvie and Gillen are both very busy these days with multiple projects. Notably, the brilliantly executed effort to tackle the frustrations and confusions of modern adolescence through the filter of superheroes in Young Avengers. The point of this post and mentioning “The Immaterial Girl” is to simply keep it in the ether until the stars align. I have plenty to read for the moment, but when “The Immaterial Girl” does materialize I’m hoping for a big Phonogram dance party in the Bay.

 

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RetChronicles: Revisiting “Titans Hunt”

New_Teen_Titans_Vol_2_71For a few of years I’ve been haunted by a story arc from The New Titans dubbed “The Titans Hunt.” Since my original reading of the storyline in 1990, it’s lived in my mind as one of the greatest Teen Titan stories ever told. For a couple of years now I’ve wanted to revisit the story, but haven’t been willing to invest in the floppies knowing I already had them sitting in a long box 3,000 miles away. On a recent trip to my childhood home, I decided to crack open that box, pull out a big chunk of nostalgia, and pack it all in my luggage (I had to steal a second suitcase from my parents because I ended up taking 15 pounds of comics back with me).

What Was “Titans Hunt”?

The “Titans Hunt” story arc runs from issue 71 through 84, but the fallout from the events in “Titans Hunt” ripple well beyond issue 100. In the letter section of issue 71 editor Jonathan Peterson promised to “shake things up” as the title had fallen into a rut. Working with longtime Titans writer Marv Wolfman and penciler Tom Grummett little time is wasted turning the Titans inside out like a baboon through a Brundle telepod. By the end of the first five issues in the arc most of the Titans are captured by the Wildebeest Society for a mysterious experiment, Aqualad’s in a coma, Titans Tower has been demolished, Jericho is revealed to be a traitor, and some b-list Titans are “dead” (I run the tally at the end of this post).

Wolfman doesn’t hold back when it comes to putting these beloved characters (many of whom he created) through the grinder. Peterson definitely got his wish by the end of the storyline with most of the core members who’d been on the roster for more than a decade out of commission.

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The strange case of Michael Moorcock and Grant Morrison

Gideon Stargrave michael moorcock and grant morrisonThis link is to an epic response from Grant Morrison to Alan Moore, but I’m mostly interested in the part regarding Michael Moorcock.

I don’t dabble much in creator drama (and I find the Moore vs. Everyone drama especially droll), so I didn’t actually know Moorcock had such disdain for Morrison. It shocks me because if it wasn’t for Morrison I likely never would have picked up a book featuring Moorcock’s character Jerry Cornelius. Since Morrison led me to discover Cornelius I’ve read every single Moorcock story (as far as I know) that features the character. The devouring of those stories led me to Dancers at the End of Time which in turn resulted in digging deeper into Moorcock’s work including Elric, Corum, and more (even works like Fireclown and Gloriana). Likewise, I came to Jorge Luis Borges due to that author’s influence on Morrison’s Doom Patrol.

Reading Moorcock’s 2004 thread, where he continues to hold a grudge 25 years after 17-year-old Morrison first used Gideon Stargrave, it sounds like Morrison had spent the last two decades trying to hide the tribute he was paying to the author in his work. I don’t personally think that was the case as Morrison wasn’t shy in mid-90s interviews or the letters section of The Invisibles to mention how he was inspired by both Moorcock and J.G. Ballard in his youth (the latter he’s cited as being the larger influence on both Gideon Stargrave and King Mob). Moorcock seems to be fixated on the character of Gideon Stargrave while missing the more relevant influence of Cornelius on aspects of the character of King Mob.

Reading works by creators like Morrison is enhanced by figuring out how different pieces of the larger puzzle were informed. In many ways, it’s like dismantling the samples in a Beastie Boys album and visiting the source material. Kurtis Blow has often joked about how he could have sued the Beastie Boys for clipping his song “Party Time” in “Hey Ladies,” but instead accepts the sample with pride, because it’s led new listeners to his work.

I’m a fan of Moorcock because Morrison shared his exuberance for the character of Jerry Cornelius with Gideon Stargrave. Instead of being petty and spiteful Moorcock should instead be thanking creators like Morrison for keeping his legacy alive instead of collecting dust in the poorly organized sci-fi section of a used bookstore.

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DC’s editorial department back in spotlight as Batwoman’s creators step down

Batwoman proposal from issue 17.

Batwoman proposal from issue 17.

Last night J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman announced that they’re leaving Batwoman after 26 issues due to editorial interference that included being “prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married.” Williams followed up the posting of his letter on Twitter with the comment “But must clarify- was never put to us as being anti-gay marriage.”

No one except those who were in the editorial board room knows if this decision was based on a company policy against DC’s LGBT characters getting hitched. It would seem odd in light of the company’s increasing comfort with prominent LGBT characters including Batwoman, Midnighter, Apollo, Sarah Rainmaker, Alysia Yeoh, and Alan Scott. What we do know is that DC erased every major character marriage — most notably the marriage between Superman and Lois Lane — when they relaunched the DC Universe in 2011. That suggests DC may have a policy to limit the marriage of title characters — no matter their sexual orientation. DC has never declared that limiting marriages is a policy.

No matter the justification for denying the marriage, the departure of Blackman and Williams once again brings negative attention to DC’s editorial department, who seem to have an increasing problem of not trusting some creators while putting too much faith in others.

The story Williams and Blackman have been telling is unique in the DC Universe, as they’ve had the freedom to tell it in a bubble without needing to shape their arcs around pesky multiple-title event storylines. Batwoman and Batman, Inc. were the only Bat-books given the luxury to sit out both “The Court of Owls” and “Death of the Family.” The result, free of crossover interruptions, is a complete story that can be read straight through from the first issue. Its lead character is also one of the best developed characters in the new 52. Continue Reading →

Saga wins a Hugo

saga_umbilicalThe 2013 Hugo Award winners were announced over Labor Day weekend and ongoing comic series Saga from Image Comics took the prize for Best Graphic Story.

The Best Graphic Story category was introduced in 2009, when Girl Genius by Kaja and Phil Foglio won out over contenders like Fables, Y: The Last Man, and Joss Whedon’s Serenity— and kept winning in 2010 and 2011. 2012’s Hugo went to Digger by Ursula Vernon on Sofawolf Press. Saga‘s win may indicate a sea change in a category that has previously recognized independent and smaller press works.

Of note is that the Hugos– unlike, say, the Nebulas or Tiptrees, which also honor speculative fiction– are voted on by about a thousand Worldcon members as opposed to the typical small committee model. You could therefore interpret Saga‘s Hugo Award as both a critical and a popular accolade.

Superior Spider-Man is better than you

This post originally appeared on my personal blog on April 8, 2013.

Alternate cover for Amazing Spider-Man #700

Alternate cover for Amazing Spider-Man #700

If I were to rely solely on the comments sections of comic book industry news sites I’d be led to believe that Superior Spider-Man is the worst thing to happen to Marvel – ever. In truth, it’s one of the best titles the company currently has, which is saying quite a bit, because Marvel’s certainly been hitting it out of the park in terms of storytelling and character development.

I like Peter Parker. When I was a wee lad I’d consume anything that featured “Spider-Man” in the title. I wanted to be Spidey and I related to Peter. That said, one thing I like more than Peter Parker is when comic book publishers take risks with legacy characters in the name of telling an ambitious and well-written story. For all the complaining fanboys do about the state of the industry it’s always puzzling to me that they complain just as much when companies try to do exciting things. Sacred cows are boring if all they do is stand in a field all day.

What Superior Spider-Man does well is play with emotions. It’s sad to know that Peter’s not simply dead, but that his body has been inhabited by one of his greatest enemies, Doctor Octopus. It’s torture to see a flicker of the hero still frustrated and screaming in the background of his body’s consciousness.

It’s creepy to know it’s Otto Octavius flirting with Mary Jane. It’s even creepier on a whole other level to know he’s pining inside for the woman he once almost married, Peter’s Aunt May.

It’s frustrating to finally see J. Jonah Jameson approve of the actions of the wall crawler, but only because Otto is sullying Spidey’s name by crossing the hard ethical lines set by Peter.

It’s humiliating to watch Doc Ock mock Peter, one of the smarter people on Earth-616, for not completing his doctorate and actually pledge to do what Peter could not by finishing school. To add to that humiliation Doc builds dozens of spider cameras to monitor the city, so he can more effectively fight crime while also finishing his degree.

The storyline Dan Slott is writing for Spider-Man is providing the character of Peter Parker the opportunity to take a vacation. It is, essentially, a way to eventually relaunch a fresh Peter Parker as the spectacular Spider-Man without the need to relaunch the entire Marvel Universe. At this point it appears when Parker comes back Spider-Man’s reputation will have been reset to where the public is wary of the wall crawler. It’ll be like the good old days when J. Jonah Jameson was a one man propaganda machine vilifying Spidey no matter how much good he did. Assuming the world doesn’t learn that Spider-Man was occupied by Doc Ock there’s going to be a serious need for Parker to rebuild not only his brand, but relationships.

Of course, I was one of those in the minority who felt DC and Grant Morrison were too quick to bring back Bruce Wayne as Batman. Dick Grayson trying to live up to the legend, and cope with a scowling Damian Wayne, was far more interesting than yet another Bruce Wayne as Batman vs. “fill-in-the-blank” from his rogues gallery story. Due to the necessity to bring back Bruce Wayne we never had the opportunity to learn, for example, how would Dick Grayson as Batman handle the Riddler while carrying on the charade that it’s the same Batman?

I know how Peter Parker as Spider-Man will handle villains like Electro or Chameleon. I’ve read versions of those stories for years. I don’t know how Otto Octavius as Spider-Man will handle those villains, especially without letting on too much that he isn’t the same person inside the Peter Parker flesh suit.

Dan Slott has received a great deal of venom for his decision to “kill” Peter Parker, but the angry comments from the “don’t change the status quo” crowd are mere whispers when held up against the numbers. Superior is a success, because Slott, with the blessing of his editors, decided to have faith that readers wanted to read new stories and not just remixes of the old.

Madison’s Westfield Comics prepares for the new DCU

On Wednesday the San Diego Comic-Con kicks off. In recent years the focus has been less on the form of media in the event’s name and more about television shows, video gaming, and film. This year Comic-Con could be much more old school as the main point of discussion for many attendees will likely be the controversial decision by DC comics to reset all of it’s titles to #1 and, in a sense, relaunch the Universe. On Saturday, fans are planning a protest to express how “utterly baffled, disappointed and just ANGRY” they are about DC’s decision.

That protest is in solidarity with “Harleypalooza” where cosplayers who like to dress as The Joker’s lady friend, Harley Quinn, plan to show their outrage at the new DC version of Harley. The previous incarnation of Harley sported a modest clown suit and the new DCU (or DCnU) has her sporting a loosely tied corset and very, very short shorts (here’s some commentary on the new look).

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