Hard-Traveling Fanboys: The Rundown (May 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: Hello, fellow fanboys and fangirls. It’s time for your monthly Rundown, courtesy of the Hard-Traveling Fanboys. Nick and I will be discussing the month’s biggest news stories in the world of comics.

Nick: It’s been a busy month in the world of our beloved funny books, so let’s jump right in. Greg, what caught your eye this month?

Greg: The ax has finally fallen on four of the original New 52 books as well as two other DC titles.

All-StarCanceled

Nick: DC seems to be a in a cycle of canceling a handful of books every few months, and this time out the casualties include Superboy and the critically acclaimed and Greg Phillips acclaimed All-Star Western.

Greg: While Phantom Stranger and Pandora’s respective series were mainly designed to tie in to the “Trinity War” event and thus had a predictable shelf life, the other four (Superboy, Birds of Prey, All-Star Western and Batwing) clung to life since the 2011 relaunch despite relatively poor sales.

What’s interesting is the wide gap in quality between these books. All-Star Western is already something of a cult classic, with a small but rabid fanbase and near-universal critical acclaim. We’ll actually be doing a Longbook Hunt on the first collected edition of the series in June, so be on the lookout for that. While I trade wait on it, All-Star has been one of DC’s best series, chock full of great characters like Jonah Hex, Amadeus Arkham and Tallulah Black.

Superboy, on the other hand, has arguably done more damage to its lead character and its brand than any other New 52 launch. The book’s gone through several writers, artists and bizarre shifts in character, tone and direction. It’s even changed lead characters! It’s certainly time for DC to go back to basics and restore some luster to a character who was, just a few years ago, one of the most popular of DC’s litany of teenaged superheroes.

A much better version of Superboy than any seen in the New 52.
A much better version of Superboy than any seen in the New 52.

Nick: I can’t say I’ve read a single issue of any of these titles, but cancellations for Batwing and the two Trinity of Sin titles certainly seem to make sense. Batwing wasn’t setting anyone’s world on fire commercially or critically and had already undergone one massive status quo change when the title character was changed a while back. The Trinity of Sin books, meanwhile, seem kind of pointless now that Trinity War and Forever Evil are in DC’s rearview mirror.

Birds of Prey’s cancellation is disappointing, given that I think there’s real potential in the concept, but hopefully that will open the door for Black Canary to join the Justice League United alongside Green Arrow.

And as far as Superboy goes, there’s little doubt there will be a new Superboy title sooner rather than later.

Greg: I never actually read this volume of Birds of Prey, but DC never really gave me a reason to do so. The solicitations seemed uninteresting, and the book seemingly had no impact on the larger DC Universe.

I’m somewhat with you on Batwing, though critical buzz on the Jimmy Palmiotti/Jimmy Gray run has been strong. The Batman line is over-saturated, but it’s unfortunate another minority-helmed book is off the stands.

I will, of course, dearly miss All-Star Western. I’ve burned through the first three trade volumes and loved just about every page. At least the great Darwyn Cooke is stepping in to draw the finale!

Nick: And while August will see Greg bid farewell to one of his favorite DC titles, I’ll be doing the same for the only Dark Horse book I read regularly.

sw07

Greg: I have read only a handful of Star Wars comics in my lifetime, but I know this one has been near to your heart.

Nick: Now, we all knew that Dark Horse’s Star Wars licensed offerings would be ending at some point given Disney’s acquisition of LucasFilm and the fact that Marvel is also Disney-owned. However, we now know that August will see the final issues of the monthly Dark Horse Star Wars titles, and included in that is one of my personal favorites, Brian Wood’s Star Wars.

Unlike many Star Wars-related print projects, the series largely ignored the trappings and continuity of the Star Wars Expanded Universe in favor of providing stories that only required a basic knowledge of the film franchise. It featured the classic original trilogy characters in a story set between Episodes IV and V, and had been one of the best Star Wars offerings I’ve encountered. Wood’s writing of Han, Luke and Leia felt so familiar to their big screen counterparts, and I’m hoping that the writers of Episode VII can pull that off as well as he did.

There had been some hope that the series might last through the transition, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Maybe the folks over at Marvel will think better of the idea, but I have a feeling that pretty much all Star Wars projects are going to have to get the Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams and House of Mouse seal of approval.

Greg: Is it possible Wood, who has written extensively for Marvel, would simply begin writing a Marvel-approved series?

Nick: Possible, but unlikely, I’d say. According to online scuttlebutt and various reports, one of Disney’s main goal with the Star Wars franchise is cleaning up the continuity quite a bit. The Expanded Universe is essentially being scrapped, and all future projects will have to fit within a Disney-approved continuity and publishing plan. This includes comic projects, so I’d imagine that anything featuring the main original characters so heavily would face a lot of editorial challenges.

Greg: Editorial challenges have been a common issue over at Marvel’s competitor, but those issues are unlikely to arise with the latest digital series the company has announced.

Sensation_Comics_Vol_1_5

Nick: DC already has two weekly standalone digital series featuring Batman and Superman, and it seems like the company is readying itself to get behind Wonder Woman in a big way with this series. She’s going to be featured heavily in various film projects over the next few years, so the timing seems right for something like this.

Greg: Like Legends of the Dark Knight and its spiritual companion Adventures of Superman, Sensation Comics will feature out-of-continuity stories that will later be collected in print form. The digital issues will be released weekly, and each story will be at its creators’ discretion. That’s perfectly illustrated with the first issue, which features superstars Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver teaming up to craft a story involving Oracle that could never work in the New 52.

Nick: And that’s the big draw of these series — given the self-contained shorter nature of the stories, the relatively small time commitment makes them possible for even the most high-profile and overworked creators to come aboard. Plus, that Simone/Van Sciver team up is a dream team of sorts for many.

Greg: Those of you out there who are still wringing your hands about the New 52 reboot, look no further than DC’s digital line. All three of the aforementioned titles are outside the New 52 canon and allow the creators to pursue more iconic takes on the titular characters.

"There's only one valid take on Wonder Woman!"
“There’s only one valid take on Wonder Woman!”

You’ll also find books like Smallville Season 11, Batman ’66 and Batman Beyond Universe that give you a glimpse outside the New 52 confines.

While I enjoy a lot of New 52 books, I see no reason why there can’t be as many out-of-that-world books as possible on the market. There is plenty of room for different takes on these historic characters.

Nick: And while DC is planning its next digital ongoing, Marvel is turning its eye to its next major event.

comics-axis-previews

Now, I know what some of you may be thinking — “Isn’t Marvel in the early stages of one event already?”

Greg: I was thinking that.

Nick: Well, yeah, but let’s not act like that’s any reason to keep from setting up the next major crossover. This one, “Axis,” will be a bit of a followup to 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men. This time around, the two iconic teams will seemingly be united against a common foe — an “Axis” of evil that includes Green Goblin, Loki, Carnage, Doctor Doom, Sabretooth and an Onslaught-powered Red Skull.

Loki’s inclusion certainly has me interested, as the character is currently starring in a pretty good solo series that has him acting in a more heroic light. I knew the God of Mischief would go back to the dark side eventually, but I was hoping it wouldn’t come quite so soon.

Other than the promise of an Avengers/X-Men teamup and a collection of villains, we don’t know much about the story or the event, so we’ll see what it winds up being.

Greg: I don’t want to come off negative, as I’m actually really intrigued by “Original Sin,” the current mega event (a murder mystery involving a Watcher? Uh, yes, please!). However, I have two concerns about this, the first of which can be summed up in one word you mentioned above: Onslaught.

Nick: Well, I can’t offer too much explanation, as I’m pretty far removed from the non-Asgardian side of the Marvel Universe. All’s I know is that Red Skull has somehow gained the powers of Onslaught after previously merging with the brain of Charles Xavier at one point.

Greg: It’s a word that I have difficulty using in my newspaper reporting life, outside of the comic book context, because it inspires nausea, fear and crushing depression in me. That character/concept/costume/story drove me away from comics for years, so I’m hesitant about any event with ties to … that word.

My other concern could also apply on a micro scale (as in, from line to line) to DC: how many events are too many events? I love a good summer blockbuster like anyone else, and I’m fine with yearly events. But Marvel, for the better part of a decade, has simply bled each event into the next, making it feel like one long season of Dragon Ball Z.

He's the most powerful, unbeatable entity in the universe ... until the next one comes along.
He’s the most powerful, unbeatable entity in the universe … until the next one comes along.

DC, meanwhile, has had fewer companywide crossovers, but each “line” has basically been one big event after another — from Green Lantern (First Lantern into Relic into “Uprising”) to Batman (“Court of Owls” to “Death of the Family”). Many of those stories, from both companies, have been outstanding. But is it too much?

I should mention that I love long-form storytelling. It’s my preferred type of comics. But even I am getting fatigued on major Lantern events, and only one in every three Marvel mega events manages to grab my attention.

Nick: I completely agree. I’m pretty burned out on events, whether they be across lines or entire universes. DC’s problem isn’t quite as bad, however, as it seems like Marvel uses universe-wide crossovers more often. Like you, though, I’m pretty tired of Green Lantern titles being in a neverending string of events. Doesn’t the Corps ever have time to actually police the universe instead of constantly fighting threats to the very existence of the Corps or the universe or both?

Greg: Well, with the Red Lanterns now policing Earth and Sector 2814, maybe Guy Gardner and company will be paying a visit to the offices of DC Entertainment soon after reading these comments from a legendary creator’s family.

billfingerbatman

Cliff’s Notes version: Bill Finger co-created Batman with the guy everyone knows, Bob Kane. He also honed and crafted most of the iconic elements of Batman, from Commissioner Gordon to Batman’s look and secret identity (with plenty of input from Kane, to be fair). Yet there’s a reason most Americans haven’t heard of Finger — he’s never been given credit as the co-creator of any of those things, much less Batman.

Nick: Sadly, this type of story just never seems to go away for DC. The company’s two most iconic characters, Batman and Superman, have had numerous disputes over who deserves the true creator credit and royalties. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster notoriously fought for compensation for years after creating Superman, while Finger for years was known within the industry to have done the lion’s share of the work when creating Batman despite DC’s refusal to acknowledge his efforts.

However, the company’s hands are kind of tied when it comes to Bill Finger. Bob Kane, the man who has long been recognized as the sole creator of the Caped Crusader, was known as a bit of an egomaniac in his time, and apparently asked DC before he died for an agreement that he receive sole credit for the character. That request was honored, making it very difficult legally for DC to do much of anything for Finger or his family.

Greg: It’s a real shame, and I’d like to think the comics people at DC — from editorial on down — probably want to do right by Finger. The legal wranglings of the situation make things difficult, however.

The issue of creator rights is one of comics’ greatest black marks, and it’s up to fans and executives alike to make sure the likes of Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko receive the credit they deserved all along as some of comics’ greatest minds and founding fathers. Hopefully some legal eagle will find a way to get Finger’s name added to Batman projects in the future.

Nick: While we’re on the topic of Batman, let’s close this month’s Rundown with arguably the biggest piece of comic-related news from the month. After months of anticipation, May brought us our first look as Ben Affleck as Batman in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which was recently revealed as the title of the film.

batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice

Greg: ZOMG THAT’S TERRIBLE AND STUPID AND I HATE IT AND THE MOVIE WILL SUCK AND JFATSFA&%SRASR&%

Oh, sorry, my evil twin from Twitter took over my keyboard for a moment.

Nick: Allow me to begin with the far less important news first — the title. As someone who follows the development of most comic book films fairly, I have to say that following the development of this film has become increasingly frustrating. And that isn’t because of anything the producers or writers or Zack Snyder is doing, but rather the complete overreaction of the Internet to virtually every bit of news.

Ben Affleck is Batman? Internet outrage!

Wonder Woman is in the movie and is being played by Gal Gadot? Internet outrage!

Jesse Eisenberg is Lex Luthor? Internet outrage! (Note that Jeremy Irons being cast as Alfred at that time didn’t cause quite so much consternation.)

Cyborg is in the movie? Internet outrage!

And now, a title is revealed, leading to, you guessed it, Internet outrage!

Twitter user and Facebook commenter James T. Kirk.
Twitter user and Facebook commenter James T. Kirk.

Greg: This was after Internet joy over the release of a picture. It’s been nothing if not a fickle reaction.

Nick: Frankly, the whole thing is getting a bit ridiculous. I still stand by the Affleck casting and have since day 1. Gigli and Daredevil were 10 years ago, people. No one brings up The Town or Argo when discussing Affleck, but rather his decade-old mistakes. It would be like someone bitching about U.S. Marshals when RDJ was cast as Tony Stark.

And as far as the other casting choices go, not every casting move needs to be fan service. If that were the case, every movie would have Nathan Fillion and Bryan Cranston in the lead roles. Besides, there are countless examples of controversial casting decisions in comic films turning out for the best. Heath Ledger, Michael Keaton, Hugh Jackman and yes, even RDJ come to mind.

And as far as extra characters being added for what will likely wind up being glorified cameos, I find it odd that Marvel is praised at every turn for their attempts to expand their cinematic universe, yet DC is chastised for the same.

But, none of that can compare to the bitching over a title.

A TITLE.

A FUCKING TITLE.

Something that will have absolutely NO impact on the quality, tone or story of the movie. Is the “Dawn of Justice” subtitle necessary? Of course not. But, neither was “The First Avenger” when it was added to the first Captain America movie. This subtitle, much like that one, is simply letting the more general audience know that this film is just one giant step towards the long-awaited Justice League movie. There’s nothing wrong with that.

And even if you absolutely hate the title, what does it really matter? Again, I argue it has nothing to do with the eventual quality of the movie. There isn’t a title in the world that could have elicited an overwhelmingly positive response, so bitching about this one is pretty stupid.

Greg: “Star Trek into Darkness” was a terrible title, but it made plenty at the box office and received heaps of (questionable?) critical acclaim. Is it a great title? No. Will this make or break the film? Absolutely not.

And in my view, “World’s Finest” would have been just as bad, if not worse, because the average moviegoer has no idea what it means and it sounds like a cologne line.

World's Finest: Smell like gunpowder and exploding planets.
World’s Finest: Smell like gunpowder and exploding planets.

It would’ve been fanboy service, which is fine, but let’s not act like it inherently made more sense or was more palatable to the general public than the ultra-generic “Dawn of Justice.”

Nick: And while many have taken issue with the “Dawn of Justice” subtitle, I’ve actually also heard people complain about the usage of “Batman v. Superman” instead of “Batman vs. Superman.” Seriously? Is that all we have to do right now — complain about the lack of an “s” in the abbreviation for “versus?”

This whole hubbub over the title is just a symptom of a larger problem where pretty much every Internet fanboy feels the need to make a judgment and form an opinion about this movie TWO YEARS before it hits theaters. I think everybody needs to just pump the brakes and chill the hell out.

Greg: When this whole process is over, perhaps we should revisit our old Reality Check about the Internet Comics Community. We could probably all stand to chill from time to time.

Nick: Titles don’t matter. You know what does matter, though? The look and feel of a movie. The actual imagery contained within the film.

And so far, we’ve seen exactly one image. One.

ben-affleck-bat-man-superman

And you know what? It was freaking awesome. It was a shot of a bulky, pissed off-looking Batman wearing an obviously “Dark Knight Returns” inspired suit, which is something that is vastly different from any version of the Batsuit ever seen on screen. Plus, he was standing in front of a redesigned Batmobile that took the best design elements from the Tumbler of the Nolan series and the sleek look of the Burton films. So, the suit looks awesome and the Batmobile looks awesome. And yet, we’re all discussing a title. Ugh.

Greg: It was an exciting reveal, though I’m hesitant to get too worked up positively or negatively about a still image. I remember being thoroughly unimpressed with the first Ledger-as-Joker image until I saw it in action. Time will tell how everything looks in motion and how the film tells its story.

In any event, that brings us to the end of this month’s Rundown. We hope you readers have enjoyed our stroll through the month’s biggest happenings, and we hope you’ll join us next month for more. Next week, we’ve got a very special Giant-Size event, as it’s the fifth Friday of the month.

Nick: Indeed we do. But what form might it take? What tales will be contained within? You’ll just have to come back next week to find out.

In the meantime, send us your feedback on Facebook, Twitter (@gphillips8652 and @nickduke87) and on our PTB email accounts (GregP@placetobenation.com and NickD@placetobenation.com).

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.