DC Universe #0
Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, writers
George Pèrez, Doug Mahnke, Tony S. Daniel, Ivan Reis, Aaron Lopresti, Philip Tan, Ed Benes, Carlos Pacheco, JG Jones, artists
DC Comics, April 2008
Four of the six* ongoing DC-published superhero titles I read are written by Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns. The former is as engaging as ever in All Star Superman and Batman (which reads better in chunks than it does in monthly installments), while the latter has truly come into his own with Green Lantern and the Superman series Action Comics (both of which are at this point my all-time favorite main-line runs of their respective lead characters). Morrison, for his part, is my favorite superhero writer, and I enjoyed his earlier collaboration with Johns on 52. So despite having no interest in Countdown to Final Crisis and some innate resistance to the DC approach to crossovers–they tend to be epic discussions of comics-y concepts like continuity and multiverses, as opposed to Marvel’s tendency to root its events, however perfunctorily, in more familiar ideas like the privacy/security tradeoff or post-9/11 paranoia or whether the ends justify the means–I naturally gave this book a whirl based on my appreciation of its writers. I even brought home a copy since Jim Hanley’s was giving them away for free!
It’s a fun book. I don’t think I knew that it was going to be a collection of teases for upcoming storylines rather than a self-contained story, or even a coherent prologue to a larger story. But this approach seemed like a smart way to get across several things:
1) The DCU is heading in a unified direction…
2) …dictated by storylines involving the big iconic characters rather than Donna Troy and the Pied Piper…
3) …and written by Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns rather than Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. Heck, given the reception of Countdown and its countless spinoffs, even Greg Rucka and Gail Simone, who are riding shotgun with vaguely connected tie-ins, seem like a huge deal.
DC Universe #0 seems to show that DC recognizes that its core characters/franchises (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, perhaps Wonder Woman) are all pretty strong right now, so why not recalibrate the company’s crossover mojo around them rather than trying to force people to be interested in peripheral nonsense about nobodies? So instead of Monarch and Jason Todd, you get Batman grilling the ever-creepier Joker about a long-running plot thread involving a godlike supervillain gunning for the Dark Knight. You get one of Johns’s now-trademark multi-panel rapid-fire tastes of the rainbow of power rings now zipping around outer space. You get Superman in the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes (a concept I really don’t cotton to, but Johns has earned some credit in this department with his most recent Action arc), preparing to do battle with the hilarious fanboy-entitlement metaphor Superman-Prime. You get Wonder Woman’s godly forebears preparing to replace her with an army of 300 knockoffs, which makes for a funny visual at least. You get a creepy villain holding the scales of justice and trying to recruit other villains into yet another version of the Secret Society of Super-Villains, this one a Scientologyesque cult presumably dedicated to the awesome Jack Kirby villain Darkseid. You get an obliquely established return of Barry Allen, the long-dead Silver Age Flash, that plays itself out primarily through the shifting tone (and colors) of the narrative captions; it’s pretty funny to see Morrison do a mainstream-press-worthy character revival the same way he might establish an obscure plot point like, say, the link between the Undying Don and Ali-Ka-Zoom in Seven Soldiers. And you get the Spectre, but hey, they can’t all be winners.
As might already be apparent, the book is written in the crazy million-things-happening-at-once style of Morrison’s JLA Classified, Seven Soldiers, and those acid-flashback Batman issues from a few months ago, Johns’s Action Comics Annual and Sinestro Corps Special, and the pair’s 52. It’s possible to see the seams between the two writers’ work from time to time, but it takes some doing. I’m really happy to see Johns genuinely collaborating with Morrison and holding his own–it’s worth it for the horrified reaction of blogosphere snobs alone.
The art, needless to say, is of varying effectiveness. (Ivan Reis does what Ed Benes would like to do much better than Benes actually does, for example.) I think the George Pèrez cover is ugly and unnecessarily retro. However, I do like the design of the house-ad teaser pages interspersed throughout the comic to tout the relevant tie-ins–the text so blocky and matter of fact it’s almost funny. And they beat the hell out of either those orange Countdown-slogan teasers or the previous wave of motivational-poster-style teasers.
That being said, the notion that this is at all accessible to someone who isn’t a giant nerd is laughable. But I don’t care, since I am a giant nerd and I don’t give a shit about this particular book attracting new readers. That’s what manga is for! And even then we’re only talking about the first volume in a given series. I think the myth that “every issue should be written like it’s somebody’s first so that superhero comics would be more accessible” might make sense from a publishing perspective, but not necesarily a storytelling one, and maybe not even a publishing one anymore either given who the audience really is. I mean, any given fourth-season episode of Lost or Battlestar Galactica is completely incomprehensible to people who haven’t been following along, yet we fans don’t complain about that because we are fans and that’s who the shows are aimed at. Nobody gets upset because Death Note Vol. 7 isn’t a good jumping-on point, because that volume is for preexisting Death Note fans. Virtually everyone who picks up a comic called DC Universe is going to be someone who is already familiar with what a shared universe is, and that is totally fine. Now, the big corporate superhero companies can claim that the goal of something like DCU #0 is going to woo Johnny Dailynewsreader, but we don’t have to play along by evaluating the book negatively based on that standard. The standard I evaluated it on is “here’s a book by two of my favorite writers at DC that leads into their upcoming storylines on various titles–does it make me happy I’m reading them?” The answer was yes.
* All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder and Ex Machina