Hard-Traveling Fanboys: The Rundown (February 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.

Greg: Welcome, loyal or new readers, to the second edition of The Rundown. Nick and I have selected a few of the comic book-related news items from the past month that interested us and will give our thoughts on them in the following space. WARNING – there will be some plot spoilers for Batman #28 and a few other comics in this column.

Nick: Indeed we shall, sir. February is the shortest month of the year, but there’s no shortage of comic news to talk about, so let’s jump right into it. Greg, what caught your eye this month?

Greg: Let’s start off on the Marvel side of the so-called Big Two. Longtime Spider-Man writer Dan Slott announced this month an upcoming miniseries focusing on Spider-Man’s earliest adventures — literally, as this takes place just after the end of Amazing Fantasy #15 (where Spidey debuted) and concurrently with the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Amazing Spider-Man #1-3.

Spider-Man-Year-One-TEASE

Nick: I saw this as well, and didn’t know what to make of it, quite frankly. Telling new versions of iconic origins is nothing new for comics, but it seems like Marvel is trying to avoid a direct retelling by having this “sidequel” to the original Spidey origin.

Greg: While it stops short of retelling Spider-Man’s origins (as in the case of Batman with “Zero Year”), “Learning to Crawl” will showcase the first 60 days or so of Spider-Man’s crimefighting career.

This is intriguing for a couple of reasons, but perhaps most notable is Slott’s direct reference to the storyline as a “Year One” type event for Spider-Man. He promises to write it as a loving homage to the original Lee/Ditko stories, but he also wants to introduce a new villain and some new side characters that will factor into his soon-to-be-resurrected Amazing Spider-Man run.
Certainly there have been attempts at “Year One” takes on Peter Parker in the past, to mixed results. What is different about this is just how beholden it appears to be to the original stories. Everything from the look of Parker to the artistic style will be steeped in the original stories so many are familiar with. It’s a different approach to the concept than Scott Snyder has taken on Batman, but an equally interesting one, potentially.

Nick: It’s an interesting balance to strike, however. Theoretically, if this story happened at the same time as the original Lee/Ditko first few issues, how impactful can it really be? Like if something extremely significant was happening at the same time, wouldn’t it have been mentioned at some point? I suppose that can be said about a lot of stories, though.

A scene from the iconic Amazing Fantasy #15.
A scene from the iconic Amazing Fantasy #15.

Greg: That’s a great point. Slott said he isn’t going the “secret mastermind” route, like Mr. Sinister, but merely showing an early encounter that shapes some aspects of Pete’s personality. It sounds a lot like Snyder’s original pitch for “Zero Year.” Eventually, he decided that keeping “Year One” in canon didn’t work for his story. While I can’t see that happening here, it’ll be interesting to see how Slott addresses any continuity issues that arise. He also helped a lot of continuity nerds out in that interview by clearly stating that Spidey’s early days happened about 12 years ago in the current Marvel Universe sliding timeline.

Nick: While Marvel is taking a look to the past, DC’s look to the future caught my eye, as the company released the initial solicits for its upcoming weekly series, “Futures End.”

nuevadc600

Greg: DC’s latest attempt at a weekly comic, which will be running at the same time as the by-then-ongoing Batman Eternal, takes readers five years into the future and introduces Batman Beyond to the mainstream DC Universe for the first time.

Nick: We’ve known for a while that the series would feature the New 52 debut of Batman Beyond, Terry McGinnis. However, the initial solicits reveal several other tidbits. McGinnis will be a time traveler from the even further future, and Grifter will play a major role as well.

There will also be major implications for Lois Lane and Firestorm, as both will be involved in side mysteries to the main story in issues 3 and 4. So, it looks like Futures End will be taking a closer look at some of the supporting, non-Trinity characters in the DCU, something that I’m looking forward to.

Greg: Anytime characters besides Batman and Superman get a little spotlight, it’s a good thing. It’s even better when they’re characters outside the traditional Justice League. Firestorm had a solo title in the New 52, but it never really gained a big readership. This should put more eyes on the character, and I’d imagine Booster Gold could come into play as well.

How could anyone say no to this guy?
How could anyone say no to this guy?

The solicits also promise a funeral for a “fallen hero,” a war with another world that caused the Earth to “reel” between the events of the present and the five-years-later world of Futures End. Any guess as to who the hero in question is?

Nick: Cyborg, perhaps? It would make sense to tie him in with Brother Eye in the New 52, with his death dismantling the final barrier between Brother Eye and an all-out takeover.

Greg: I could see that. I don’t think it’ll be as predictable a character as Superman, and Cyborg would fit the bill for a surprise. I could also see it being Barry Allen, as a kind of parallel to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths (and since Wally West will have been introduced by then).

Nick: We’ve already seen the potential for Cyborg technology gone wrong with the Grid, so it’s not difficult to imagine Cyborg building Brother Eye as a safeguard should he ever be taken over again.

Also, recent DC acquisition John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson will be providing a variant cover for the series debut, which shows that particular dream team will be doing a few other things besides the recently announced “Superman” title. Speaking of which…

Greg: … My favorite writer is partnering with one of Marvel’s most iconic artists to take on DC’s oldest and arguably most iconic superhero.

JR_SM_001_color_2.jpg

Nick: This really is huge news. There aren’t many combos with more name value than these two, and there isn’t a more recognizable character in the world than Superman. I’m far from a Superman fan, but I can’t help but be intrigued by this all-star creative team.

Greg: It’s no secret that we’ll follow Johns to any title he writes. After revitalizing Green Lantern, Aquaman, the Teen Titans, the Justice Society and even Vibe, why not?

And frankly I’ve been hoping for new blood on the Superman title for quite a while now. Other than Superman Unchained, I haven’t read a Superman ongoing comic that really gripped me in about a decade. I’m anxious to see what Johns can do, especially since he has made it clear he and Romita are going to reset Superman’s New 52 plate. That is a very, very promising thing.

Nick: Absolutely, and with what appears to be a hard shift in the dynamics of the DCU, the Justice League and especially Superman in the wake of Forever Evil, there should be some interesting stories to tell. It appears Lex Luthor will be positioned as the public’s savior, while Superman might be distrusted and ostracized to a degree.

Greg: As for Romita, I’m not the most familiar with his work, and I wouldn’t call myself the biggest fan of his, but it’s really cool to see a lifelong Marvel guy try his hand at a DC character. It would be the equivalent of seeing Johns move over and become the lead writer for Spider-Man. This is a huge deal, and I’m anxious to see how Romita’s strong storytelling meshes with Johns’ scripts. What are your thoughts on Romita’s style and how it might translate to the DC characters?

Nick: I’ve always really enjoyed JRJR’s Spidey work, especially during the severely underrated and now nonexistent J. Michael Straczynski run on the main title. The thing about Spidey is that he may have plenty of human characters in his book, but there are also some pretty fantastical characters as well, especially villains such as Doc Ock, Rhino and the symbiotes, Venom and Carnage. So, I think JRJR will be just fine on Superman. I just hope Geoff Johns throws us all a bone and lets JRJR draw Batman early on.

Greg: I’d certainly expect an appearance or two from the Dark Knight. I’m just happy someone is steering the ship now. While Scott Snyder and Greg Pak have done admirable jobs on Unchained and Action Comics, Scott Lobdell has steered the overall direction of the character for the better part of two years now, and the results have been poor. The New 52 reboot was particularly unkind to the Superman family of books, as his relationships with Lois, Superboy and Supergirl were either abandoned or taken in strange, un-Superman-like directions. Plus every storyline seems to revolve around Krypton.

Gripping stuff from New 52 Superman.
Gripping stuff from New 52 Superman.

I’m hoping to see a streamlining of the things that make Superman work, and given Johns’ history with the character, I have no reason to doubt that can happen. A little retconning would be OK too.

Nick: Speaking of Batman, we got a glimpse of what’s to come after Scott Snyder wraps up Zero Year and where the story in Batman Eternal will eventually be taking us, as Snyder delivered a special “spoiler” issue of Batman this month.

Batman-28-cover

Greg: While we issued a warning, let us reiterate that some major plot points were revealed in this issue, and we will be discussing them based on the glimpses of the future Snyder and artist Dustin Nguyen offered in Batman #28.

Nick: Yes, Snyder described this as a special thank you to the fans who have so vocally supported his and (regular series artist) Greg Capullo’s work on the Dark Knight, and it was in this issue that we got a tantalizing glimpse of what’s to come. Well, where to begin? We found out that Batman Eternal will see Gotham ruled in an essential police state. However, it isn’t a police state led by Jim Gordon. In fact, the GCPD corruption appears to be worse than ever.

Greg: Which is saying a lot, since Gotham’s cops make even the dirtiest officers elsewhere look like Elliott Ness.

Full cavity searches all around.
Full cavity searches all around.

Nick: We’re shown that a criminal overlord has taken control of the city, with the police squads answering to this figurehead. Harper Row, a Scott Snyder creation, manages to infiltrate a nightclub owned by this figurehead, setting the stage for Batman to crash the party.

It’s then that we are shown that Harper has been granted the privilege of becoming an official Bat ally, taking on a new suit and the moniker “Bluebird.” Batman, meanwhile, is not pleased to learn that the new criminal overlord is none other than Selina Kyle. Some reference is made to an event that caused Catwoman to develop a grudge against Batman, but we aren’t told outright what that is. We also learn that there’s a plague or virus of some kind threatening Gotham, and that Catwoman has secured the only hope for a cure in here vault. Of course, Batman and Bluebird are shocked to learn that the hope isn’t a drug, but one Stephanie Brown. The book’s closing page offers the New 52 debut of the former Spoiler, making Snyder’s description of the issue even more apt.

Greg: I guess the first place to start with this one is Bluebird. Harper made her debut in a standalone Batman issue just after the epic Court of Owls story ended. From the get-go, she and her brother were intriguing additions to the Batman universe, and we speculated about what her future role would be. Some thought she’d be the new Oracle, while others saw her becoming Damian Wayne’s replacement as Robin. Instead she’ll be a new Bat-ally with a pretty cool-looking costume that has the same (fantastic) color scheme as Nightwing’s pre-New 52 duds.

Bluebird makes her debut.
Bluebird makes her debut.

While I think the New 52 is rapidly approaching an excessive number of Bat Family members, I have dug Harper from her creation and find the look and idea of this new character very intriguing.

Nick: Yeah, you knew she was bound to wind up in a costume sooner or later, and I thought the Bluebird costume was a cool way to pay homage to Nightwing and Robin simultaneously while still allowing her to create her own identity and legacy.

Greg: It still brings me back to the question of why they changed Nightwing’s color scheme in the first place, but that’s neither here nor there.

Stephanie Brown fans no doubt rejoiced while reading this issue. I’ve never really cared one way or the other about the character (I completely missed Bryan Miller’s critically acclaimed Batgirl run), but it’s nice of Snyder and company to finally throw Spoiler fans a New 52 bone.

Nick: Indeed, and it’s clear that there are big plans for Spoiler in the years ahead. What about the Batman/Catwoman split? I know you and I have always preferred the characters united, rather than divided.

Greg: Well, since we just ranked them as our second favorite comic book couple, it’s pretty clear where I stand on this issue.

I have never liked or bought Catwoman as an outright villain. This is almost assuredly because of the era in which I grew up, which had an antihero approach to her in the comics, on film and on the cartoon. But it’s also the nature of the character. Unlike the Joker, Harley Quinn or Two-Face, Catwoman isn’t driven by madness. Unlike the Riddler, she isn’t driven by egomania. And unlike Bane, she isn’t driven by power. She is a complex, multifaceted person who tries to do what she perceives to be the right thing. And frankly, I think her relationship with Batman simply works, for all the reasons we laid out in our Valentine’s Day edition of Countdown. It’s been handled so well, too, in the pages of Forever Evil that the revelation in Batman #28 really took the wind out of my sails. I’ve got no reason to expect anything less than a great story from Snyder and Capullo, but I can’t deny that I’m a little bummed to see Selina compared to Marvel’s Kingpin of crime.

Nick: I’m pretty disappointed as well, but I’m hoping we’ll be provided with some reasoning that is at least believable.

Greg: I mentioned the various interpretations of the Batman/Catwoman relationship in other media. Well speaking of another medium…

AMC officially announced the development of a TV series based on the classic Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon ’90s series Preacher.

preacher

Nick: That they did, and the most interesting aspect of it is the involvement of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg as associate producers. The comedy duo has been responsible for many recent Hollywood comedies, such as “Superbad” and “This is the End.”

Greg: That’s also the source of concern on my part, as I tend to dislike their brand of stoner humor on the big screen. Preacher is one of my favorite series, period. We’re talking top 10 or even top five here. I don’t want them to screw this up. That being said, all indications are that they’re huge fans of the comics.

Nick: Indeed, and I’d rather have it in the hands of someone who loves it instead of someone with no attachment. I think we should just be happy we’re finally getting an adaptation of some sort. The project, whether it be a film or a TV series, has been in development hell for quite some time.

Greg: I think we both feel it’s best that Preacher was turned into a TV series than a feature film.

Nick: I would agree. There’s a lot of story to tell, more than could probably be adequately expressed in a two-to-three-hour film.

And I’m hoping for a fairly faithful adaptation. I know Walking Dead comic fans have clamored for the show to follow the book more closely, but AMC hasn’t gone that route. I would argue that Preacher is better than Walking Dead has ever been, and should be left relatively intact.

Greg: I’m OK with changes, so long as they’re sensible changes. Of course, sticking super-close to the material makes more sense with Preacher, as it had a shorter run than Walking Dead, which is still trucking past the 100-issue mark.

My other concern is censorship. I know AMC let Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Walking Dead get away with a lot. But none of those shows have material even close to the controversial/disgusting level of Preacher. And dulling the edge of Preacher’s satire may hurt the entire project. If they let it push the boundaries, though, perhaps a show could recapture the excitement and importance of the comic.

Nick: It’s going to be tough for it to live up to our expectations no matter what, so I’m just hoping that it’s a success. I would just hate to see Jesse Custer’s story started and never finished.

Greg: I just can’t wait to see Arseface.

Nick: Ah yes, the one role in Hollywood I wouldn’t mind seeing Shia LeBeouf play.

I can see the resemblance.
I can see the resemblance.

And since we’re on the subject of casting, let’s finish this month up by discussing some notable casting for an upcoming superhero movie. A Fantastic Four reboot is coming in 2015, with Marvel’s first family being as such: Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm, and Michael B. Jordan as Human Torch.

Michael-B-Jordan-

Greg: Obviously the most noteworthy thing here is simply that Fox greenlit another Fantastic Four movie.

Nick: Now, normally, casting for a FF movie wouldn’t even pique my interest. So, it’s not the casting I’d like to discuss so much as it is the reaction to the casting. Michael B. Jordan playing Johnny Storm has drawn the ire of many fans, for no other reason than his skin color. What these people fail to realize, however, is that the persona and personality of Johnny Storm is far more important than his appearance. Look at Bane, for example. He was always portrayed as Hispanic in the comics, yet was played in an Eastern European, very caucasian manner by Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises. There was no huge stir made then. The double standards should be clear.

Probably not from Santa Prisca.
Probably not from Santa Prisca.

Hell, I’d argue that the main problem with the casting is that they didn’t carry out the diversity angle quite far enough. If Johnny is going to be black, it would only make sense for Sue to be black as well. Of course, that would require an interracial relationship to be one of the primary focuses of the movie, and there are some things we just aren’t likely to see in a comic book movie quite yet. That’s a real shame, as I feel like an interracial Sue and Reed romance, done right, could be a big boon for the comic book industry and help show people that comics don’t cater to just white Americans.

Greg, your thoughts? And no, we don’t really care about discussing anything else about this movie. The FF have always seemed cheesy and outdated to me, not to mention boring.

Greg: One of the unfortunate things about this situation is that there are strong, valid opinions on both sides. Unfortunately, those who defend the decision are accused of being “too politically correct,” while those on the other side accuse anyone who disagrees of being racist. Let’s go ahead and throw out all the obvious racists who always react to something like this. They’re sad, depressing people and their opinions don’t matter.

On the one hand, it doesn’t bother me at all that Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, is an African-American. His whiteness is no more essential to his character than the color of his shoes. Michael B. Jordan is a respected actor who brings gravitas to the role, and I have little doubt he’ll do a great job of playing a good character.

However, our PTBN colleague Maurice Pogue is just one of many individuals who have raised some very valid concerns about the casting, and I tend to agree with some of it. In some ways, the casting can be seen as tokenism — not because Johnny is being played by a person of color, but because any of the other characters could’ve been chosen, or Sue could’ve been made African-American. There are certainly mixed-race families all over the country, but why can only one member of the team be black? And if that’s the case, why make the hotshot, cocky member of the team be the sole representative? What if they’d gone with a black Reed Richards, the smartest man in the Marvel Universe?
Their intentions were to add diversity, but it raises some serious concerns about what’s going on subconsciously. People far more qualified than me are going to weigh in on this casting in the coming months, but the main thing I’d like to see is a civil, intelligent debate about the situation instead of the lazy banter often seen on Twitter.

Nobody has a problem with this casting.
Nobody has a problem with this casting.

I, for one, would love to see DC or Marvel have more prominent minority characters so that this becomes less of an issue in the future. But just as Nick Fury’s change of race was embraced on the big screen, I think the same can happen here.

Nick: There aren’t any easy answers here, but neither side of the argument is coming off very well thus far. Let’s just hope that as the movie gets nearer, the debate will die down and we can let Jordan’s performance speak for itself in the end.

Greg: Absolutely. And as boring as I’ve always found the characters in other iterations, I’ll give it a shot like I give seemingly every comic book film.

Nick: Well, that about does it for this month’s edition of The Rundown. Be sure to come back later this week for the latest edition of Off the Page, in which we’ll be taking a look at the video game “Batman: Arkham Origins.”

Greg: The first Off the Page dedicated to something that isn’t horrible!

Nick: But, as always, be sure to send any feedback you might have our way. 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.

Greg: Your responses could be used in a future column! Or we could just ignore them. Or even something in between!

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.