Hard-Traveling Fanboys: The Rundown (April 2014)

Mild-mannered reporters by day, Greg Phillips and Nick Duke share an intense love of comic books that has made them the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. And with that intense love comes an appetite for the latest news from the comic book world. Each month, in The Rundown, the Fanboys will run down their top news and notes from the comic book world.

Nick: Welcome back, Place to Be Nation readers, to the special corner of cyberspace occupied by the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. The accumulated fatigue from WrestleMania weekend and unexpectedly hectic schedules caused us to miss last week’s column, which was scheduled to be a Longbook Hunters focusing on Marvel’s recent Hawkeye solo series. Don’t worry, though. We’ll be bringing you that in next month’s Longbook Hunters. This week, we’re here with the comic book news that made waves in the month of April in the latest edition of The Rundown.

Greg: It turns out we weren’t the only ones with a busy April. The comic industry saw numerous announcements, including new titles, cancellations, movie casting updates and tantalizing previews. It was a challenge to hone in on our top six stories for the month.

Nonetheless, let’s get things started with some big news involving one of DC’s most iconic characters, as the fallout of Forever Evil will see Dick Grayson get his own solo series … just not as Nightwing.

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Nick: Well, no matter my opinion on this bit of news, I can promise you it won’t be nearly as passionate as Greg’s. Suffice it to say I’m not overwhelmed by the concept and new direction for Dick, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

Greg: Well, Dick is my favorite character in all of comics, so I’m naturally worried about any sweeping changes that are made to him. Yes, I’m definitely an Internet Fanboy when it comes to Mr. Grayson. You see, DC has a long and inglorious history of treating Nightwing like the proverbial redheaded stepchild (no offense to any redheaded stepchildren out there) of the DC Universe.

Sure, he had his own title on a few occasions, getting plenty of issues along the way. And yes, many of those stories were of decent or better quality. But since the early 2000s, every step forward for the character has eventually led to a few steps back. Since the early ’90s, Nightwing has been used by Batman writers in a role not unlike that of Apollo Creed in Rocky 4 — a disposable “jobber to the stars” used to set up villains for Batman. The likes of Azrael, Ra’s al Ghul, Alexander Luthor, Lex Luthor, Le Bossu, the Court of Owls, the Joker and now the Crime Syndicate have all taken turns battering Nightwing, all in an effort to make them appear like more of a threat to Batman.

"Bane's coming back to Gotham? I'll go after him first, Bruce!"
“Bane’s coming back to Gotham? I’ll go after him first, Bruce!”

To make matters worse, Dick’s solo books have rarely been given enough time (or promotion) on their own to really make a mark on the DC Universe as a whole. Sure, he might fight his own villains here and there, but ultimately we’re reminded he’s a small fish in a big pond. People tend to forget that Dick has been around longer than almost every character in modern comics, and that’s because the company still treats him like an afterthought after all these years. Despite promises from creators that Dick’s removal from the Batman role in the New 52 wouldn’t be a demotion, that’s exactly how it played out in the New 52.

The premise of this new series — a former counterterrorist co-writing an espionage thriller — sounds incredible. It just doesn’t sound like Dick Grayson. I’m particularly perturbed by the cover images showing him aiming a gun. That violates so many principles of the Bat-family it made my head spin. I’ve learned not to judge a book by its cover, but the solicitations and early interviews haven’t eased my concerns that the creators don’t really get why fans love Grayson, whether as Batman, Robin or Nightwing. Still, I’ll give this one a chance when it hits the stands. I hope that, for once, my concerns about my favorite character are unwarranted.

Nick: I will agree that the gun-toting version of the character depicted on the cover does concern me a bit. While Dick may not have the same aversion to guns that Bruce does, it’s hard for me to imagine him picking up a gun quite so willingly.

However, I do like some of the things that the creative team has been saying, mainly the bit about wanting to distinguish Dick from Bruce. DC hasn’t done a great job of making Nightwing seem like anything more than “Batman Lite” over the years, and this could be an opportunity to finally let Dick stand on his own two feet. Granted, that’s overwhelmingly optimistic thinking.

The next step in Nightwing's development?
The next step in Nightwing’s development?

I also like the idea of giving Dick an archnemesis, something he hasn’t really ever had unless you count Tony Zucco or Blockbuster. In all, I can certainly see the reasons for concern, but I’m willing to see if the creators can manage to live up to the premise’s potential.

Greg: My concern is how few writers have managed to strike a good balance between making him his own man while not separating him completely from the Bat-family. Peter Tomasi and Chuck Dixon probably did the best jobs, in my view, but it’s definitely been a struggle. Hopefully your optimism is well-placed.

Nick: Well, while DC’s plans for the new Grayson series will undoubtedly impact your favorite character, Amazon’s recent announcement will have an impact on the entire industry.

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Greg: While I don’t dabble in the world of digital comics, this is definitely a shake-up. I’d venture to say that most of my comic fan peers are regularly reading digital comics, and Comixology has definitely been the lead dog in that online race for dominance.

Nick: Not much is known about what changes, if any, Amazon has in store for its newest acquisition, but that isn’t why this is included here. Amazon, one of the world’s most successful companies. isn’t going to seek opportunities to acquire companies it doesn’t believe in. Obviously, Amazon saw a valuable asset in Comixology, which goes to show you how far the digital market has come over the years and how important it will be going forward.

My real hope is that it will provide opportunities for Amazon to provide a packaged print and digital market, similar to the way QR codes are used in print single issues now. If you’re buying a trade paperback on Amazon, what’s to prevent the company from providing a Comixology digital version along with that purchase?

And, with its massive profit margins, what’s to prevent Amazon from offering digital comics at reduced prices in an effort to boost sales? Comixology is undoubtedly the world’s dominant digital comic retailer, and Amazon one of the world’s leader in competitive pricing. I’m excited to see what changes, if any, are made to the traditional pricing structure.

Greg: If Amazon can be as consumer-friendly in Comixology’s digital prices as it is with trade paperbacks and hardcovers, it’ll certainly be a positive thing for many fans’ wallets. Of course, that would presumably affect creators from a royalty standpoint, but I’m not entirely sure how creator royalties work with regard to digital comics.

Digital comics is one of many categories featured in the 2014 Eisner Award nominations. 

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Nick: The Eisner nominations are very skewed toward non-traditional superhero comics, but that didn’t stop creators such as Matt Fraction, Scott Snyder, Kelly Sue DeConnick or David Aja from earning nods this year. Hawkeye really appears to be the big winner from the “big 2.”

Greg: The Eisner Awards are the most prestigious awards given in the industry, often aimed at works that appeal intellectually and artistically to more literary tastes. The most prominent superhero book nominated in multiple categories this year is Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye, which is up for Best Single Issue, Best Continuing Series, Best Writer, Best Cover Artist and Best Coloring (Matt Hollingsworth).

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples continue to draw acclaim for their original Image book Saga, as do Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta for their sci-fi Western, East of West.

Were there any surprises for you in this year’s nominations, Nick?

Nick: As you said, the awards are primarily aimed at the works that are more artistic and intellectual, much like the Oscars tend to honor a certain type of film. And, much like the Oscars, the works that the Eisners tend to honor aren’t always a good indicator of how much I’ll enjoy something. With all of that said, it’s still tough for me to see how Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s Thor: God of Thunder didn’t receive a single nomination.

E-SAD Ribic
E-SAD Ribic

I can somewhat understand Aaron not getting a nod for his work, as his style isn’t really “Eisnery,” but Ribic’s art has been every bit as good as any of the other artists who received nominations. Plus, as I’ve said before, I’ll put up T:GOT #12 against any other single issue I’ve ever read. It deserved a nomination.

Greg: That was the biggest surprise for me as well. While I trade wait on it, Thor: God of Thunder has been one of the biggest critical hits of the last few years. Both you and Todd Weber have praised it endlessly, and the first story arc blew me away. I’m surprised it didn’t warrant at least one nomination.

I was also a little surprised Andrea Sorrentino wasn’t recognized for the wonderful art in Green Arrow.

Nick: While we’re on the subject of things that didn’t get Eisner nods, let’s talk about something that won’t receive any next year.

For those who aren’t aware, September has become a pretty important month in the DC Universe. The New 52 began in September 2011, followed by Zero Month in 2012 and Villains Month in 2013. This year, DC is providing readers a look at what could be in store for the DC Universe five years in the future. A weekly series, Futures End, will also be exploring this topic, but these solicitations provide a bit better glimpse at what that future will look like. There are numerous points of interest here. Greg, which ones catch your eye right away?

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Greg: The one I’m probably most excited about is Booster Gold. He’s been underutilized in the New 52, but he’s one of DC’s funniest, most compelling characters. It’s pretty cool that he’s A) back and B) playing an important role.

The solicitations for Batman, Batgirl, Justice League, Justice League United, Aquaman, Red Lanterns and Green Lantern also sound really compelling.

Nick: Yes, the Aquaman titles sound very interesting to me as well. The idea of exploring a split between Mera and Arthur and having Mera take the throne of Atlantis would make for a very interesting story that would be worth exploring in more than just a two-issue story set in a potential future.

Greg: True, but let’s not give DC too many ideas, given the company’s recent attitude toward married couples.

Nick: And, like you said, the Red Lanterns issue and the two-part Justice League/Justice League United story should make for a great read, but I sure hope that isn’t the actual future planned for Martian Manhunter.

Greg: I’m sure (or am I?) that these futures are hypothetical in nature, in that Futures End will be aimed at preventing them. Otherwise, there are going to be a lot of angry people on the Internet, as is often the case. Still like Armageddon 2001 back in the day, this type of “Here’s what might happen” story often leads to entertaining scenarios. Blue Lantern Guy Gardner? I’ve got to see that.

Nick: Yeah, I have a hard time believing that DC would show us exactly where they’re headed. I’d be willing to bet that elements of these stories will be kept, but not every single plot point.

Oh, and BLACK LANTERNS!

Greg: Yes, I’ll have some.

A new book that promises to emphasize the “52” in New 52 is the recently confirmed Grant Morrison project known as “The Multiversity.”

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Nick: This could be….. interesting. It’s certainly a Morrison concept if there ever was one.

Greg: And I think that’s why I’m excited about it — it’s Grant Morrison in his element. Specifically, it’s Grant Morrison writing concepts that only Grant Morrison is likely to deal with. Unlike his Batman and Action Comics run, we don’t have to worry about Morrison’s odd story paths hindering other creators.

This concept, which will finally explore DC’s massive multiverse beyond just the primary two Earths, is right up his alley. It’s trippy, fourth wall-shattering sci-fi, which is something at which Morrison excels. Judging by Morrison’s interviews, each book in the limited series will have a different feel and focus on a different universe, each with its own distinct look.

Among the worlds that will be explored are one where the descendants of Batman and Superman rule, one with pulp versions of DC heroes and another with Superman crash landing in Nazi Germany as a child.

I dare you to read this with a straight face.
I dare you to read this with a straight face.

But the two that interest me the most are a Watchmen-influenced world based on the old Charlton Comics characters (such as the Question and Blue Beetle) and one called Thunder World that centers on the Captain Marvel/Shazam family.

Nick: This one’s been in the works for a while, and promises to shine the spotlight on Earths 4 through 52 in the DCU. Morrison’s style seems suited to this type of project, but let’s hope it’s more “Arkham Asylum” or “New X-Men” than “Final Crisis.”

If nothing else, I’m certainly interested in the Charlton characters. The Question could be a fantastic character in the hands of Morrison. I’m interested to see how the story ties all the different universes together. Could be a tough sell. However, the promised guidebook outlining all 52 universes is something I’m certainly going to pick up, if only to know exactly how things line up in the New 52.

Greg: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic Watchmen was originally intended to feature the Charlton characters, so it’ll be neat to see what Morrison does to homage both Watchmen and the characters’ roots.

Meanwhile, Morrison said the Captain Marvel book will be aimed at all ages, which is great for a character that was always meant to be aimed at kids. It’s such a great character/concept, and I hope it turns out along the same lines as Jeff Smith’s excellent “SHAZAM! and the Monster Society of Evil” from several years ago.

Nick: And, any book with this premise: “Power has a cost, and at the heart of this epic tale waits the cursed and malignant comic book called ‘Ultra Comics’…” should at least be interesting.

Greg: Ha! I have a feeling this project will either be really high quality or entertainingly bizarre, but either way it’ll be worth a look.

Nick: And finally, while Grant Morrison is focusing on interconnected universes, Marvel film fans got their hopes up briefly for another cinematic crossover.

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Greg: I had visions of Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge running through my mind as this report came out recently. Or, you know, something better than that.

Nick: Post credit scenes have become a superhero film tradition these days, and the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man 2 will be no different. However, this time around, it won’t be Spidey taking center stage in the additional scene. Rather, it’ll be the X-Men.

The link has all the details on the hows and whys of how this came together, but let’s focus on the fanboy dreams.

At a very basic level, this shows that Sony and Fox at least have some willingness to cooperate. And while we’ll likely never see Spidey and Wolverine side by side on the big screen, it sure is a lot of fun to think about.

Both studios are chasing the type of success Marvel has had with the Avengers films and the MCU, and I say what better way to play catch up than by combining Spider-Man and the X-Men into one big crossover film? The Avengers would have Marvel’s premier team, but that film would have arguably the company’s two most popular heroes in Wolverine and Peter Parker.

Greg: And I think a Fox-Sony collaboration is far more likely at this point than a Marvel-Fox or Marvel-Sony collaboration, personally. Marvel doesn’t need any outside help at this point, while both Fox and Sony would stand to benefit from a crossover film of some kind.

"Uh, nah. We're ... we're good."
“Uh, nah. We’re … we’re good.”

Plus, while many prefer Spidey connected to the Avengers universe, I’ve always enjoyed his interactions with Wolverine and the Merry Band of Mutants.

Nick: Granted, any collaboration would be much more difficult and complicated than simply throwing the characters together. Revenue and expense division would be an endless debate, which is why most of this is just fanboy daydreams.

Greg: The reasons for a collaboration are strong, though. Marvel Studios is arguably the biggest brand in Hollywood right now — instant money at the box office. The Spider-Man and X-Men franchises, while successful, haven’t recently reached numbers quite so lofty. Combining the brands would enhance both while giving casual movie fans a reason to get excited the same way many did when “The Avengers” was first announced.

I mean, it won’t happen, but damn it’d be cool to see, for instance, the Sinister Six take on the X-Men, or Spider-Man cross paths with Magneto.

Nick: Well, that about does it for April’s Rundown. Be sure to catch us next week, when we go Off the Page to take a look at the Astonishing X-Men motion comic.

Greg: We welcome any and all feedback. You can hit us up on Facebook, Twitter (@gphillips8652 and @nickduke87) or through our Place to Be Nation email accounts, GregP@placetobenation.com and NickD@placetobenation.com.

Nick: See you next time!

Author: Greg Phillips and Nick Duke

Greg and Nick share two passions above all others, both of which involve people in spandex punching each other. Reporters by day, they also insist on being called "Two Dudes with Attitude" but can't decide who is Kevin Nash and who is Shawn Michaels.