Crisis on Infinite Continuities: The Current State of the DCU

Towards the end of last year, I did a couple of pieces about the state of Rebirth after just over one year in.

Continuity, Crossovers and (Doomsday) Clocks – Keeping Track of DC Rebirth

It’s Not Easy Reading Green – A Look At The Post-Rebirth Lanterns & Arrows

Well, we’re now at two years since Rebirth began (nobody mention the number 52!), so it seems like a good time to take stock of the state of the storylines and individual comics that have stayed on, left and joined the giant pull list. As always, there are DCU titles that I haven’t mentioned here, but we’re staying (pretty much) with the core continuity.

Before I go any further though, fair warning: I have my concerns about the state of the DCU. Where DC had really been succeeding in the Rebirth era was managing to avoid continuity clash – the dreaded situation where comics end up out of sync with each other. As I noted at the time, Dark Knights: Metal kinda fell into this trap, although largely managed to avoid the worst of it (leaving aside my feeling about Metal generally, which are a bit mixed). However, as we see new writers on core comics, there is a bit of sense of drift just now, so it remains to be seen whether DC can rein everything back in.

(NOTE: bold titles are the Graven-approved Pull List)

SUPER FAMILY – Action Comics, SupermanMan of Steel, New Super-Man, Super Girl

My feelings on the Super Family really haven’t changed. I’m thrilled that both Action Comics and Superman have become comics that I eagerly anticipate reading, really for the first time in my life. The journey that we’ve seen Kal & co on has been really satisfying, but let’s not diminish the fact (along within the pages of Hal & the GLs) that Zod and family are now major players in the DCU.

Bendis’ ongoing weekly The Man of Steel revisiting the “truth” about the end of Krypton is a good read – perhaps not a great read yet but still, the man knows his stuff, so I have faith in where he’ll take the big blue.

I’m sorry to see Super Sons end, as it was unfailingly excellent, but given that we’re likely to see more of the Jon/Damian dynamic (harhar) in Teen Titans, I’m not too concerned.

I enjoyed Super Woman, even if it was a bit hit and miss, and will be interested see whether and how they bring Lana/Steel back.   New Super-Man – or rather, New-Super-Man and the Justice League of China – continues to not-quite-excite me, even with an expanded roster: it’s telling that the most interesting character is China’s Flash, not Keenan Kong himself.  And, yeah, Super Girl still doesn’t know what it wants to be.

BAT FAMILY – Batman, Detective ComicsBatwoman, Nightwing, Batgirl, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, Batman Beyond.

Tom King has set his stall out in style with Batman, finding meaningful ways to develop the character that we know so well through his relationship with Catwoman. It’s breathtaking just how good it is, and I’m coming from the perspective of not having particularly enjoyed the start of his run on Batman (and the less said about Judd Winnick’s portrayal of the Cat/Bat romance, the better).

Likewise, Detective Comics continues to redefine the family as a whole, and it’s great to see the Spoiler/Red Robin relationship take centre stage. The intricacies of the potential future paths that Tim Drake might take are handled well, with many nods subtle and not so subtle to past classics (we see Grant Morrison’s Damian-Batman of the future, for example, and the return of Connor Kent). If there’s any weak links, the fact that Duke/The Signal continues to be under-explored, even within his own one shot.

Equally, Batwoman has become a major force in the DCU as whole, with both her own exceptional comic and as the de facto leader of the Bat-Family, and her troubled relationships with both her own family and Orphan are especially well-written, again, in keeping with the wider Rebirth theme of the parent-child relationship.

As for the other titles, Birds of Prey continues to be an interesting and satisfying read, with the interplay between 3 conflicting sets of values always creating good tension. Batgirl as a standalone comic has been less successful, although it seems to have picked up again in the last couple of issues – much like Nightwing, which has bounced back from a tricky change of writing team. Batman Beyond continues, for my money, to be one of the great underappreciated titles of the DC stable, and the fact that it’s been brought into the main DC continuity (with Brother Eye/OMAC appearing simultaneously in Detective Comics and BB) makes my little bat-heart flutter.

COMIC RELIEF – Harley Quinn; Suicide Squad, Red Hood and the Outlaws.

I’m enjoying the new Harley Quinn run so much it’s shameful. I always assumed that HQ would be my comedy relief title, to dip in and out of, but it’s actually become one of the most exciting titles out there. It’s a fantastic example of avoiding continuity crash – it manages to fit in continuity (ish) without making your head hurt, and doesn’t reduce Harley just to comedy and cheesecake. Great stuff, and still complemented by the dark, relentless despair of Suicide Squad.

Red Hood and the Outlaws, meanwhile, has become a brilliant tragedy, beautifully and poignantly written, yet still with genuine laughs. I’m slightly scared as to where it’s going to go next, as I’m not sure how it can sustain such a high calibre of complex, nuanced writing, but I’m sure as hell around to find out. I recommend everyone read this comic, DC fan or otherwise, because the last thing we want to see is it not continue as a series.

OUTLIERS – Deathstroke/Teen Titans/Titans

Having been a complex, intricate noirish crime thriller Deathstroke seems to be having trouble reconciling itself as a more conventional antihero comic. I find it’s just not holding my attention as much post-Lazarus, and it seems to be circling around the same plot points, which to be honest is a bit disappointing. Teen Titans and Titans still don’t quite seem to know their place either, although Troia (evil Donna Troy of the future) acted as an effective antagonist. There is a bit too much overlap in terms of what the two titles are essentially trying to do, I think, and as such neither of them really satisfies.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD – The FlashHal Jordan & the Green Lantern Corps, Green Lanterns , Green Arrow

The Flash remains an oddity: it’s largely divorced from the rest of the DC continuity still. This actually makes for a really interesting read, and is a very savvy editorial decision on the part of DC (along with Williamson, obviously) as it enables the non-fan – or rather, the CW fan – to follow it without feeling obliged to read the rest of the DCU. If you want a self-contained narrative, it’s a great one to go for, and the brewing Flash War feels very much in the tradition of the BIG STORIES of the Flash’s past.

My fellow reviewers insisted that I dive into the Green, and it’s been pretty hit-and-miss affair. I haven’t exactly loved the Green Arrow storylines, and as I feared the Moira and 9th Circle stuff never really satisfied. Green Arrow Annual #2, however, had the biggest irritant of the year so far, however, casually mentioning that it was after No Justice – it was uncomfortable enough when Metal kept going outwith the weekly release continuity, and frankly you’d think DC would’ve learned from that. Ah well.

My overwhelming frustration with Jessica Cruz as a Green Lantern continues, although bringing back Singularity Jane and Power Ring was a great way to explore the character properly (props to Tim Seeley for that) – although I can’t help but think it would have been more effective to culminate with her becoming Power Ring fully as a tortured antihero (plus, allowing us a route back into the events at the end of New 52) – and likewise, Simon still just seems to be the token Muslim superhero. But hey, they secretly fancy each other. Because of course they do. It’s not like you can show a male and female character as equals without that. Sigh.

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, meanwhile, continues to knock it out the park. From John’s leadership and tension with the Guardians, Kyle’s creative solutions to problems, and Guy’s deep personal frustrations and insecurities (really being brought to the fore in the current Darkstars storyline), it’s a crunchy, gutsy comic that manages to weave all of its different elements and personalities effectively. Absolutely cracking stuff.

THE DARK SIDE OF THE DCU – Wonder Woman/Mister Miracle

Mister Miracle has rightly earned huge plaudits. It’s slightly alarming that Tom King can produce this and Batman to such a high calibre. If you get the chance, go pick up the “Director’s Cut” of Issue #1, it’s a real treat. Arguably, MM is the most exciting comic coming out of the main DC stable right now, and sets an incredibly high bar for the rest of their output.

Speaking of which, Wonder Woman seems to have sadly lost its way. Rucka’s work on the title was so iconic that it was always going to be a tough act to follow, and whilst the introduction of Jason (long-lost brother… great) had potential, it feels squandered. There have been interesting moments with classic villains from the roster, but the current Dark Gods storyline has floundered horribly, not least with the frankly awful Annual #2 (which, reuniting WW with the Star Sapphires, should’ve been stunning). It’s like the mirror of the DCEU on screen, in some horrible way, unable to match up to her on-screen success.

FROM BAD TO GOOD – Aquaman/The Hellblazer/Justice League

Hellblazer and Aquaman continue to go from strength to strength, at least in terms of the writing. The art in Hellblazer is a bit shaky in places, but grounded in Seeley’s writing it’s forgivable (early Aquaman this is not); there’s horror and humour, everything that Constantine should be (and his cameo in Green Lanterns was definitely a highlight of that, too) – I’ve not enjoyed John this much since Sixpack and DogwelderAquaman is coming to the end of its current, rather apocalyptic arc, and along with the Mera: Queen of Atlantis 6-issue miniseries continues to be an enjoyable, if not essential, romp: much like The Flash, it exists in its own bubble (sorrynotsorry) and is well worth reading simply for its own sake.

Justice League has managed to really bring itself back from the brink of irrelevance (unlike, say, Justice League of America, sadly), with a fantastic Cold War thriller of a storyline looking at the geopolitical implications of their actions, small and large. A compelling story, with Red Lion showing up (a fairly persistent minor league villain that’s been really elevated in the Rebirth era) and proper space for Cyborg to be used as a character have meant it’s become a much more interesting read. Whilst the recent relaunch at issue #1 is, well, yet another issue #1, it does at least allow it to shake off some of the concerns with its Rebirth reboot and so I for one am looking forward to picking it up.

CONTINUITY AND CROSSOVERS – Metal/No Justice/Doomsday Clock

Not to repeat myself, but I do feel like the – frankly excellent – Doomsday Clock is getting lost between Dark Nights: Metal and No Justice, and particularly since so much has been resolved in the pages of Action Comics, I maintain that readers have largely lost interest in the New 52/Rebirth MacGuffin. I’m still hopeful for a resolution in Doomsday Clock, but once again it’s threat of continuity crash – or should that be Crisis? – that threatens to make it irrelevant. I’ll stress that I’m really enjoying Clock, far more than I expected; I actively want to see these characters as part of the DC mainstream, and not as just random pop-ups (I’m looking at you, Midnighter).

Snyder’s 1980s epic homage Dark Knights: Metal is undoubtedly a must-read for the “serious” fan but, if I’m being honest, it’s the one-shots that I enjoyed the most. It was a fun sandpit he created, but better when others were playing in it. The idea that this has opened up a whole-new universe for the DCU fills me with a little bit of dread, though its follow-on No justice seems to have an entertaining rein on things: it feels more contained, with (dare I say it) more editorial oversight. Which neatly leads me on to…

NEW AGE OF HEROES – Sideways/ Damage/The Silencer/The Terrifics/ New Challengers/Curse of Brimstone/ The Unexpected

So like some kind of terragen meta bomb, the events of Metal have unleashed a whole new breed of supers on the Earth (and in anticipation of invoking nerd-rage, yes, I am aware the DC did a similar meta-event to Marvel in the late 90s). This contrivance has given us the Signal, over in the Bat-family, but also a number of heroes… with mixed success.

Damage, as a low-rent Hulk knock-off, really struggles to sustain credibility as a title (though in fairness, worked really well in the pages of Suicide Squad, that last-chance saloon for unlikely characters), and Sideways suffers from trying really, really hard to sort-of-but-not-really be a teleporting Spider-Man. And even with Plastic Man, I just don’t care about The Terrifics – it’s just yetanothersuperteamstoppingtheworldasweknowitfromending syndrome.

Although I’ve not highlighted New Challengers or The Unexpected as “pull-list” titles, I’m sufficiently intrigued to be reading them: New Challengers has a 70s BBC TV vibe that I can’t shake, but can’t say I necessarily dislike, whilst although only 1 issue in The Unexpected feels like what Steve Orlando wanted to do all along with Justice League of America, but never really managed to escape the constraints of pre-existing continuity and rampant self-indulgence.

The Silencer is, well, killing it. It’s not perfect but it’s John Romita and Dan Abnett, dammit. It’s a crazy Marvel-looking, 2000AD-feeling slice of noir centred around Talia al Ghul’s personal hit(wo)man [retired]. It’s a cracking good read, and whilst it has some slightly dicey plotting in places (another evil super-organisation? Really?), it’s definitely filling a niche in the market.

But the real star of the show – and one of the best DC comics in years – is The Curse of Brimstone.  To start with, I wasn’t sure how I felt. Rural gothic, sure, that works for me. But in the DCU? Swamp Thing has always shown that it’s possible, but this more traditional American gothic, and I couldn’t, initially, get my head round it. But oh my, how well does it work. Essentially, this is a Vertigo comic, in the best, most traditional sense. Remember how it felt to read The Hellblazer, back in the day, and whenever he was outside of a city John got stuck in 70s British Horror? That’s how this feels.

Relentless, crushingly depressing, and with a sinister, creeping sense of otherness. If, like me, you’ve enjoyed the resurgence in great, atmospheric American gothic from the likes of Joe Hill and Cullen Bunn, crawl over the bodies of your loved ones to get a slice of this. Never mind that it has great art from Philip Tan that twists and warps your perceptions along with those of protagonist oh-so-average Joe Chamberlain. And don’t worry about having not read Metal – just dive in.

So do you agree with our Pull List? Let us know in the comments!

SAMDAVThe Writer of this piece was: Sam Graven
Article Archive: Geeking Out
You can follow Sam on Twitter

1 Comment on Crisis on Infinite Continuities: The Current State of the DCU

  1. I’ve enjoyed the initial Rebirth books, especially Superman, which I thought was brilliant. However, the new Man of Steel by Bendis hasn’t exactly inspired me much for his run tbh. I really wanted and tried to like Tom King’s Batman, but gave up with it after the I Am Suicide storyline. For me the highlights of Rebirth have been Detective Comics, Green Arrow, Flash, and Hal Jordan and the GL Corps. Be interesting to see what the new team brings to Detective, Tynion’s run has been superb, but I’m sad that Hall and the GL Corps is ending, its been such a great sereis. I didn’t bother with Dark Knight Metal – I’ve not bothered with big comic book events for a while now as I grew so tired of them – but I’ve no doubt DCU is building towards another big change somewhere down the line IE: another CRISIS style event that will undo Flashpoint perhaps?

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