DC Round-Up: Comics Released 10/19/16

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How many Batman books is too many Batman books? Depending on who you ask there ain’t no such thing! We try to stay up on what’s going on at DC, but we can’t always dig deep into every issue. The solution? Our weekly round-up of titles coming out of DC Comics. Today, we’re discussing Batman 9, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye 1, Green Arrow 9, Nightwing 7 and Trinity 2 . Also, we discussed Green Lanterns 9 on Thursday, and we’ll be discussing Dark Knight III: The Master Race 6 on Tuesday and Superman 9 on Wednesday, so come back for those! As always, this article containers SPOILERS.

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Batman 9

batman-9Mark: While a lot of Rebirth titles are trafficking in wish fulfillment, few go for the fan jugular as hard as Tom King and Mikel Janin’s Batman. I find this approach to be mostly exhausting (and a classic case of being careful what you wish for), but Batman 9 was the most I’ve appreciated this Batman run so far.

The main reason is Bane — he’s off of Venom and has recruited Psycho Pirate to help keep him in check. And even though he only shows up for a few pages at the beginning of the issue, he’s also the most human character to appear. King is a great writer, and Bane’s introduction here is free from the irony that characterizes so much of this run. King and Janin’s Batman/Bruce Wayne continues to be a little too winking for my taste and too impossibly perfect. It’s a common problem for Batman to be outshined by his rogues gallery, but rarely is he outshined by his rogue because the enemy is more human.

Janin’s art (coupled here with colors by June Chung) is, as always, gorgeous, and Batman 9 contains my single favorite Batman image in recent memory: the Dark Knight’s arrival at Arkham Asylum.

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I’m not entirely sure what to make of the 237 counts of murder on Catwoman’s rap sheet . Coming at the end of the issue, I’m guessing we’ll get more context next time. Otherwise it’s so incredibly weird and out of character for her to suddenly be a mass murderer.

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Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye 1

cave-carson-has-a-cybernetic-eye-1Drew: Grammar geek-out incoming: Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye is a weird title for a series. It’s rare enough for a title to contain a verb (especially in comics, which tend to adhere to a strict “name of the protagonist with an optional adjective in front” rule), but it’s especially rare for that verb to be in its present indicative form. Unlike the distance of To Kill a Mockingbird‘s infinitive form, or the immediacy of Do the Right Thing‘s imperative, indicative reads as a flat statement of fact. Cave Carson has a cybernetic eye. It ties the narrative to that fact in a way that simply calling it “Cave Carson” wouldn’t. Imagine if “Batman Fights” were the title of a series — there’d be an expectation that he’d fight in a way that doesn’t exist if the series is just called “Batman” (even though there’s still some expectation that Batman will probably fight someone). Of course, “Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye” goes a step further, introducing an object — “Batman Fights a Cybernetic Eye” is even more specific than “Batman Fights”. Obviously, “Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye” doesn’t suggest the same plot importance that “Batman Fights a Cybernetic Eye” does; that is, Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye is probably about something other than Cave Carson having a cybernetic eye, but at the end of issue 1, I’m not sure I know what that something is.

Indeed, this issue is frustratingly cagey about any facts other than whether Cave Carson has a cybernetic eye, including: who is Cave Carson? Why does he have a cybernetic eye? What does he care about? Why should we care about him? In failing to establish the basic whos and whats of this issue, I find myself decidedly unmoved by its events. It’s clearly not an issue of incompetence — there are moments in this issue where writer Gerard Way relies on simple, clear exposition to establish locations and relationships — but rather, an issue of aesthetics. These facts are omitted intentionally to create mystery, but the effect more closely resembles confusion. Unfortunately, that confusion also applies to the art. Look at how artist Michael Avon Oeming draws Cave in his first three scenes:

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Not only do I not yet know who Cave is as a character, I don’t even have a solid grasp on what he looks like. Each of these scenes is also introducing other characters and locations, so it’s not immediately clear that we’re meant to recognize Cave. I like the idea of using beard growth to denote time (and possibly reflect Cave’s mental state in the wake of his wife’s death), but there needs to be more clarity that this is Cave Carson and that these scenes are taking place in consecutive order.

Moreover, I’m not sure the timing quite tracks: it’s not clear how much time passes between that first scene and the second, where Cave goes from clean-shaven to stubbly/scruffy, but we know exactly how much time passes between that second scene and the third, where Cave appears with a fully fleshed-out beard: one day. I can say with some certainty that that’s not how beards work, which is why, on first reading, I assumed that third scene was a flashback (an earlier scene features an old video where Cave has a similar beard). Point is: I’m not just confused about the backstory, which is being kept intentionally (though arguably needlessly) mysterious, I’m confused about the basic story elements of who is in what scene and when those scenes are taking place. It’s a frustrating first issue.

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Green Arrow 9

green-arrow-9Michael: In the wake of Green Arrow’s “The Ninth Circle” storyline Benjamin Percy has delivered us two semi-epilogues, including Green Arrow 9’s continuation of “Scar Island.” Percy has been determined to bring back the classic elements of Green Arrow including his love for Black Canary and the book’s association with social issues.

Green Arrow 9 features robot bears, a two-faced woman, island-wide drug production and a secret trans-Pacific railway. Oliver and Dinah meet a man native to the island named Ata, who is married to the aforementioned two-faced woman Ana who is holding Diggle prisoner. Together Ana and Ata give us the story of how Scar Island is a wonder of their “elemental technical” creation funded by The Ninth Circle to produce heroin and also make robot bears and stuff.

I often applaud comic books for going into the whimsical realms of weird but that combination of varying elements might be one too many. Because these past few arcs have fewer chapters Percy doesn’t get a whole lot of time to dive deeper on certain things. Ana and Ata’s exposition could’ve used a little more outlining however – making robot bears doesn’t really repopulate the bears on the island.

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The social message of Green Arrow 9 was a little depressing actually. With words like “colonialists” and “white men shooting first” floating around its clear what the issue is going for. With the best of intentions, Oliver and Dinah unwittingly set the island and facility ablaze. Oliver feels a momentary bit of guilt before he sees his buddy Diggle and wants to hug him so bad, leaving the destruction behind them. Go team?

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Nightwing 7

nightwing-7Spencer: OK, I admit it: my previous take on Raptor was pretty far off the mark. Based off the issues released up to that point, I think I did a pretty decent job sizing him up at the time, but like an onion, Raptor keeps revealing more and more layers to himself. Raptor’s “rob from the rich give to the poor” anti-hero shtick isn’t new, but his aggressively irreverent personality and wealth of interests and stances are all unique to him, and that mixture of unpredictability and specificity isn’t just building Raptor into an intriguing character, but into an especially potent foil for Dick Grayson.

In the past I thought that Raptor was specifically “playing the role” of Nightwing, but it seems that, at least in terms of his personality, he was being genuine all along. In Nightwing 7, Raptor makes up his own theme song, much like Dick himself did back in Grayson 16 (and to prove Raptor’s commitment to it, we actually see sheet music for “Raptor’s Theme” when Dick knocks Raptor into his music room), and I can’t help but to see this as writer Tim Seeley reinforcing the similarities between the two characters. That’s not to say they’re exactly alike by any means, but considering his background, it’s easy to see Raptor as a version of who Dick could have become if he stuck with the circus. Raptor takes things a step further, believing that he’s who Grayson should have become, and viewing his alliance with Bruce Wayne as a betrayal of their common origins. Raptor’s beef with Wayne digs into ideas of gentrification and cultural whitewashing, but his issues with Grayson are far more personal, and it makes him an especially fierce and dangerous opponent.

The call-back to Grayson’s theme song does make me realize that it’s a bit of a bummer to see Nightwing be so angsty all the time in this series, but I do think Seeley is using the wringer he’s running Dick through to take him to some interesting places. Likewise, while I’m a little tired of seeing poor Javier Fernandez constantly have to draw Nightwing with progressively more rage-filled faces, the rest of his work continues to impress. This goes double for his fight scenes.

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Fernandez’s layout choices here really emphasize Nightwing and Raptor’s momentum. In the first panel, the slant follows Nightwing’s path as Raptor slams him to the left. In the second, the slant changes direction as Raptor throws Dick to the right, and the slant widens, opens up into a conical shape, and extends past the gutter, all to reinforce the idea that Raptor’s thrown Dick through a wall and straight into another room entirely. Fernandez’s choices emphasize all the right beats, and it leads to some surprisingly intense action sequences.

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Trinity 2

trinity-2Patrick: Our favorite superheroes are sad sacks. Their parents are dead, their homelands are forever lost, their wars on crime are futile (or possibly counter-productive). That makes for a compelling hero, but not for a fully realized human being. Think about how much how you express your happiness informs the person you are. We need to see that happiness in order to understand Diana, to understand Bruce, to understand Clark. Francis Manapul borrows a page from the great Alan Moore story “For the Man Who Has Everything” to shortcut his way to some long-overdue catharsis between grown-up Superman and Pa Kent.

The incident of this issue takes place within the surreally happy fantasy induced by the venom of the Black Mercy flower, and while Manapul holds that specific detail until the final page reveal, he aggressively drops hints right from the title page. Superman’s voice over admits:

“I don’t remember what happened next. How we got into our costumes or how we got here. All I know is I caused my father’s heart to stop beating.”

Superman and the readers are confronted with a development that doesn’t logically make sense, but are forced to ignore it in favor of something that requires immediate attention. By the time Mr. Kent is revived, we’re too emotionally drained to remember how pressing our initial “hey, what’s going on here?” question actually was.

And that’s a relief. It’s always fun to watch Batman figure out that he’s inside some kind of simulation (he’s, like, the only one who ever can), but part of what makes the Black Mercy so intriguing is that it offers an idyllic world for its victims to live in. Clark is overwhelmed by the beauty of the Smallville of his youth, and Manapul is gracious enough to offer some of that awe to us.

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If there’s one thing that Moore and Dave Gibbon’s “For The Man Who Has Everything” (which introduced this fantasy-triggering Mercy plant) fails to do, it’s that I’m never taken in by the sheer beauty of the fantasy. Moore writes a lot of sweet turns and relationships that are genuinely moving, and Gibbons performs those scenes well, but there are never panels that are beautiful for the sake of being beautiful. Manapul has the ability to create those moments, totally visually, and for no other purpose than making us all love it. Look at those colors! It’s an autumnal wonderland!

I suspect there will be some eye-rolling at this final page reveal – it is one more piece of ammunition for Alan Moore’s assertion that there are no more original ideas in comics – but it seems like this ground is still fertile. Why not plant some more seeds?

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The conversation doesn’t stop there, because you certainly read something that we didn’t. What do you wanna talk about from this week?

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6 comments on “DC Round-Up: Comics Released 10/19/16

  1. I am incredibly curious about Batman 9’s mention of something called “The War of Jokes and Riddles”. Sounds like Tom King’s very own zero year (in that it’s probably going to be a story line he’ll be alluding to for awhile which he’ll write later)

  2. Batman: I am getting really, really worried about comics fandom. There seems to be massive confusion about the ending, that is really showing a basic illiteracy. And I’m not talking about Mark here, who quite rightly realises there is more of the story to come. But so many people seem so confused at the idea of a cliffhanger. The idea that this is a surprise, and that part of the point of the story will be exploring the context surrounding this surprising turn, seems to be getting more and more lost. How is it that every time a comic ends on this sort of cliffhanger, people simply can’t understand this? Why is the response always complaining that it is wrong, instead of asking what is really happening?

    Something is wrong with the way people consume comics. I mean, this doesn’t happen in other mediums, does it? Not to the same extent? When we get a surprise like this on TV, we aren’t complaining. Has comics entitlement really reached the point that people can’t deal with not getting what they expected? There is a reason intelligent spaces like Retcon Punch mean so much to me

    There is a reason that the comments I wrote on DC Rebirth 1 (https://retcon-punch.com/2016/05/27/dc-universe-rebirth-1/#comment-126096) and Steve Rogers, Captain America 1 (https://retcon-punch.com/2016/05/31/steve-rogers-captain-america-1/#comment-126151) were designed to be twins of each other. Because the books were fundamentally opposite. And Batman 9, for the first time, appears to be an issue moving in the direction I want DC to move in. I haven’t read it – I need a greater show of faith than what I’ve seen before I give DC another try, and Mark’s comments aren’t giving me a lot of hope. But the sad truth is that it looks like too many comics fans deserve Rebirth. Because why else do they struggle so much with what should be a ordinary trope?

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    Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye: Drew went all grammar geeky on the name, but he is right to. It is honestly a great title. Partly because it gets that gonzo spirit. Partly because of how well in controls our emphasis as we read. And partly because, as Drew said, the fact that the title is about what Cave Carson has instead of what he does, it focuses us to looking at Cave Carson, instead of the world around him. In fact, it wants us to look literally inside Cave Carson. Which is what the book is about

    And I have to say, I can’t think if a stronger first page this year. We instantly get to see what Cave sees through his cybernetic eye, and the focus is on memory. And the juxtapositions this creates is amazing. Gonzo Adventure v Reality. Togetherness v Loss. Everything you need to know about Cave Carson is on this page. Who he was and who he is.

    After that, things get a little trickier. I still have no idea what real purpose there was to Cave on the phone discussing government conspiracies. Mad Dog simply isn’t introduced in his first scene in any meaningful way, and the ending expects us to find the discovery that he is some obscure hero meaningful, as opposed to the events with the Muldroogan. And it transitions weirdly. I don’t know exactly how to articulate what is wrong, as there is a clear cause and effect. But I think the problem is the establishing shots. A panel is used to establish the exteriors of every building, for some reason, and I think the meaningless beat trips me up in what should be a simple cause and effect (in every case, very little is established int hose panels that is actually necessary). And while the transition between the first look of Cave and the second isn’t a problem (the narrative makes clear that these are the same characters, and the context of mourning lets us fill in the blanks), Cave seems to go from stubble to full beard in the course of 24 hours

    But I really did love Cave and Chloe. We don’t learn a lot about Cave, but we are supposed to keep our distance. It seems they are playing Cave kind of like the Doctor. A combination of alien and human to the point that we can never truly learn about him, even as we acknowledge his fundamental humanity. Alien enough to be a part from us, human enough to be recognised as having a soul. It creates an interesting figure. Cave as someone never quite fitting works really well, especially at EBX, where even their ‘train to be like Cave Carson’ feels, to him, like they are missing the point. Meanwhile, Chloe seems to be an interesting deuteragonist , with her own interesting path.

    And of course, there is the art. Powers was an important book, and a big part of it was its colours. The great thing about the colours of powers was how every page had one dominating colour, except when superheroes turned up and the world simply got more colourful. And that same philosophy exists throughout this book. The world is only truly colourful in Cave’s memories. Otherwise, a singular colour exists. Perfectly fitting Cave’s ennui. But it is more than just the colours. Or the fact that Chloe looks so much like Calista. Powers speciality was how it combines the fantastic and the ordinary, and this union is exactly what Cave Carson wants to explore. Oeming is using everything from the Powers toolbox here.

    And then there are the little things, like how screens and images are always manipulated. How the fact that such emphasis is placed on the fact that an image is not reality. If you treat images = memory (a fair metaphor, considering nearly every image of consequence is a past event being reminisced on), Cave Carson draws your attention to the fact that memory is, ultimately, not the real thing.

    Shade the Changing Girl is ultimately better. Some of those flaws I discussed are pretty bad (the Mad Dog stuff is terrible). But Cave Carson seems like it will be Young Animal’s most interesting book. It certainly isn’t another Doom Patrol style disaster. Hell, I’ve seen a couple of descriptions which, put together, describe it as Kirby’s Mad Men. I really love that description. And I am really looking forward to the next issue of this imperfect gem. Even as I think it is clear that Way is his own imprint’s greatest weakness,

    Last to arrive will be Mother Panic. I have a couple of ideas of what I think it will be, and I have to say, I am looking forward to it. I’m hoping for some really interesting subversions on Batman tropes. A book that twists the way we look at traditional superheroes and their settings. Hopefully.

    • I think its fair to say that comics fandom has always had its share of petulant crybabies. Indeed, I doubt there is a single event in all of comics history, however popular it was, that didn’t piss off some contingent of fans. That’s just the way fandom works — some people enjoy superhero comics for reasons that seem totally asinine to me (and my reasons are probably equally asinine to them). I think we’re simply more aware of those crybabies now than we used to be — what used to be one letter in the back of an issue we could all laugh at has become tweetstorms generated by the small handful of people who didn’t like the issue, and the larger population of non-comics readers who don’t like the idea of the issue.

      BUT, having spoken to several editors on the subject, I can say that they don’t take those tweetstorms any more seriously than they used to take those letters — sometimes they might find the complaints have merit, but they’ll never lose sight of the fact that they’re coming from a tiny minority of their readers. Sales are a far, far more powerful indicator of the success or failure of a series than comments ever will be. It may be easy to chalk up editorial decisions we don’t agree with to the complaints we always seem to see online, but I can say with some confidence that there really isn’t a causal link between the two.

      But I have been thinking recently about your objections to Rebirth, and I think it really comes down to the longer editorial history of DC. While the superhero genre nearly died by the end of the golden age, DC managed to turn it around in the silver age, not by creating new ideas, but by injecting new life into old ones. Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Atom were all updates of preexisting characters in their catalogue. Contrast that with Marvel, whose silver age output was all about creating new ideas, taking the genre in new, unexpected directions. Over the years, those approaches have seemed to solidify into aesthetics for each publisher — Marvel is the “house of ideas,” constantly striving to break new ground, while DC is the… maybe “museum of ideas,” where those ideas will be maintained and restored from time to time, but kind of held in sacred esteem.

      If there’s any difference in their fandoms, it may stem from that aesthetic discrepancy. DC could find some success taking characters in new directions with DCYou, but it wasn’t appealing to their core audience, who seem to prefer something more straight ahead. Ultimately, I think Marvel isn’t really that different — for all of the shakeups, the day to day business is still telling straight ahead stories where Spider-Man is late for dinner with Aunt May again. Actually, it might be worth considering the comparisons folks have been making between Marvel’s current emphasis on legacy characters and DC’s silver age output — Marvel could be well on its way to becoming DC.

      I think there are a lot of interesting forces at play in the current shapes of the DC and Marvel universes, but tweets from the barely-literate aren’t one of them. That the reasonable majority don’t hop on social media to praise a given issue doesn’t mean editors are in the dark about the success of that issue. They know what’s working. Obviously, the market often demands things that leave me cold (or doesn’t respond to things that I love), but I doubt anyone at DC is reading those tweets thinking they need to dumb things down.

  3. My comments about fandom wasn’t actually about crybabies. While of course, there was so much abuse hurled at Nick Spencer, I haven’t seen much abuse hurled at anyone around this issue of Batman. The issue is confusion. It amazes me how often the response to what should be very standard tropes is confusion. THey don’t always send abuse at the writer, and editors are right to ignore tweetstorms. But I also can’t help but think what it does to sales that so often, it seems like the response to something as simple as the Batman cliffhanger is this feeling a mistake has been made, instead of anticipating a mystery. And this isn’t an attack at DC fans. Marvel fans are just as likely to fall for it
    Every medium has its major fan problem. Film has the turn you brain off crowd fighting the wannabe elitists, which give us stuff the stupidity of Transformers and the works of Iñárritu. TV seems to attract this obsession to detail that actually leads to people writing lines upon lines about how the one thing that the Westworld was an explanation about how the park was powered. And comic fans seem to have this issue where they get surprisingly confused by unexpected information
    The question isn’t about aesthetic preferences. For example, I believe that while we have similar tastes, the major difference between us is our tolerance for inelegance. You seem to prefer elegance, while I am more generous to inelegant construction if it allows for more content. But I do think there is a difference between saying ‘I don’t care for a story built on creating a mystery behind Catwoman’s current status quo’ and ‘Wait. Catwoman doesn’t kill. That’s a mistake!’. One is aesthetic, and the other is a literacy problem. Just as it is a literacy problem to think that a movie is intelligent because of surface signifiers, or that it is essential for a Sci Fi TV Show set in a future so advanced that it has highly advanced AI and robotics needs a justification for the energy other than ‘it is the future’ (that isn’t to say power generation isn’t something Sci Fi should explore, but that Westworld has no need to explain how the park is powered until it actually becomes meaningful).
    And while the people who tweet are a poor sample of the people who buy, the fact that one specific group seems to be very obvious has to be telling of market forces in some way. Which effects sales, which effects what gets made. I mean, which book do you think the people who get baffled and confused with Batman 9 would rather buy? Batman 10, or Spiderwoman 12? As someone who loves Spiderwoman, it is not a book designed to shock and surprise. And I don’t think it is healthy for the market to be in the position where a book like that is rejected not out of general agreement of its aesthetic merit, but out of the fact that it confuses. I mean, Tom King had planned a second arc of Omega Men planned, and that book is at the top of the list of ‘surprising, unexpected stuff happens’.
    Of course, editorial decisions are much more complicated than just that one thing. You have to take into account thing like the need to build a line that best takes advantage of DC’s currently poor marketing platform. You have to take into account the tastes of the editors, who currently lean nostalgic (Geoff Johns has built his career on books based around nostalgia, for better and for worse). But I also think it is fair to say that it is an important part of the editorial decisions being made by both of the Big Two (the fact that Marvel have a different set of circumstances changes the exact output, but Marvel’s decisions are likely reflected in part by this). Regardless of whether it is in the context of DC Rebirth’s backwards thinking or Marvel Now’s fresh, new ideas, it would be much greater if ‘shocking challenge to your understanding’ was an aesthetic tool that was more accepted. And I do believe that at this moment, comics fans of either company aren’t accepting enough of it

    On your comments about DC v Marvel, I feel you are being very harsh on DC. DC truly did reinvent themselves in the Silver Age. It wasn’t just updating existing characters. They were completely rewritten, throwing out every trace of magic and adding in the now popular Science Fiction flavour. Characters like Batman were radically shifted to fit the new rules. Both DC and Marvel went for new ideas during the Silver Age. The two differences was the routes they took and the fact that DC had a much larger preexisting stable. And then the Bronze Age showed another reinvention. Neal Adams’ Batman, the New Teen Titans, Green Lantern/Green Arrow were all massive reinventions, that again updated and created fundamental changes. The characters of those books would not be who they are today were it not for DC’s willingness to change, nor would the DC Universe at large be what it is without books like that. Hell, the very concept of Legacy is a big part of how DC would change and adapt. The fact that Barry Allen actually died for good. The fact that Dick Grayson grew up.
    In fact, by virtue of the path Marvel took during the Silver Age, you could argue they had relatively little change. It is much harder to think of major differences between Silver and Bronze Age Marvel. But if we want to say that Marvel is the House of Ideas that is always breaking new ground (and they do have a list of books that are just as important to how comics have developed as DC), it is hard to accuse Marvel’s current focus on legacy in failing to do so. There is honestly a chance that Nick Spencer ends his run with Sam Wilson as Captain America. Which means that there is a chance that Sam Wilson will simply stay Captain America, and we forever have two of them. Supporting characters like Jane Foster, Amadeus Cho and X-23 will return to their old lives more developed and more popular than ever, and are going to be richer parts of Thor, Hulk and Wolverine books than they ever were before. And some of them may even be able to support their own series. To me, legacy is a fantastic way to break new ground in a safe way. Yeah, Spiderman will forever be trapped by the fact that he is running late to Aunt May’s dinner, just as Batman will always be saving families from a mugger with a gun. But new ground is being broken when Peter grows up and has an adult job, or when Batman has Damian at his side instead of Dick. Or when Green Arrow went from a parody of Batman to a social crusader. Or how Luke Cage went from a man who raid Latveria because Doom stiffed him on the bill to a hero whose defined by his status in his community.
    Both DC and Marvel have always been changing. At different periods, they changed at different speeds. SOmetimes, they changed for the better, sometimes for the worst. Sometimes they went forward, sometimes they went backwards. Sometimes, they go backwards, and it is a mistake. Sometimes, they go backwards and it is the right thing to do. Sometimes they go forward and it is awesome, sometimes they go forwards and it goes horribly wrong. There are discussions to be had about how DC and Marvel differ (mythic v human being the big one), but I don’t think the idea that DC is somehow a museum. I mean, the thing that reminds me of what I miss of DC YOU was to fact that in one month, I could pick up Scott Snyder’s Batman, Valentine’s Catwoman, Prez and Omega Men in one month. All of these were updates of old ideas. All had had books before. But all broke new ground and created something fresh and new. All fit within the tradition of what DC did in the SIlver AGe, and did again in the Bronze Age. And did again in the Dark Age. And did again in the Modern Age. My objections with Rebirth have little to do with DC’s editorial history.

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