Hard-Traveling Fanboys: The Rundown (January 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: Hi there.

No, this isn’t the beginning of the catchy Peter Gabriel song “Big Time,” It’s something even more likely to stand the test of time: the debut of another Hard-Traveling Fanboys feature!

The Rundown will be a monthly recurring column in which Nick and I discuss some of the biggest comic book stories of the past month. We won’t be able to hit all of them, of course, but we’ll try to be fairly diverse and give some of our thoughts on the items. Disagree? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or via our Place to Be email accounts!

Nick: Yes, we’ll be taking you through our own brief recap of the month’s biggest happenings. We’ve got the six headlines that caught our eyes, and we’ll start with one that caught my interest.

All_New_Ultimates_1_Marquez_Variant-600x899.jpg 9098e0
They’re all-new AND they’re ultimate!

The gist of it is this: Marvel’s Ultimate universe has been facing the prospects of extinction during “Cataclysm,” a miniseries that has seen the “616” version of Galactus arrive on Ultimate Earth and start doing his whole planet-eating schtick.

Greg: For many months, speculation has been running rampant about the future of the Ultimate line of books over in Marvel. Many (myself included) felt the Ultimate line was set to be destroyed in the wake of Cataclysm, due to a combination of irrelevance and convolution across the fictional universe. Instead, the line is sticking around, with a few new titles added to the staple book.

Nick: And as Greg said, there were many who felt that the line could be coming to an end. However, we found out this month that the Ultimate U will be sticking around for a while longer, as a relaunched universe will be somewhat going back to the line’s roots. The original idea of the universe was for it to be easily accessible, something that was accomplished by keeping the continuity relatively simple and the number of titles low. After this relaunch, the line will be down to just three titles: Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man, All-New Ultimates and Ultimate FF.

Greg: I like the title Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man, primarily because it reminds me of the old Peter Parker: Spider-Man book.

There were a lot of Spider-Man titles at one time.

But pushing that aside, I’m a bit surprised the line survived. I figured Marvel would launch a new line (preferably with a better title than “Ultimate”) aimed at a new generation, but this strategy seems to accomplish a similar thing without losing the popular Miles Morales.

Nick: Morales was the one character many had assumed would stick around even if the universe was devoured, and coming out of Cataclysm, he’ll be featured in two of the line’s three titles. He’ll feature heavily in All-New Ultimates, which will now focus on a team of street-level teen heroes instead of Ultimate Earth’s mightiest heroes. This would suggest that many of the traditional Ultimates may be taken off the table as Cataclysm wraps up.

Greg: However, won’t these books still be steeped in the same intimidating continuity?

Nick: Allow me to play the role of the hardcore X-Men fan and say that the continuity isn’t THAT complicated. Sure, it’s not entry level, but it’s far simpler than any of the 616 continuity. Plus, it’d be a real shame to lose the character development of Miles, Kitty Pryde or the legacy left behind by the deceased Ultimate Peter Parker.

But, we’ll have to see how it plays out come April. Anyway, Greg, what caught your eye this month?

Greg: The news that six DC titles are coming to an end in April.

Tarrantino does not receive royalties for this.
Tarantino does not receive royalties for this.

Included in the six books are two that are on my personal pull list: Superman Unchained and Justice League of America. In addition to those two, we’ll also see the end of this volume of Teen Titans, Stormwatch, Suicide Squad and Nightwing, which stars my favorite character.

While sales have sagged for Teen Titans, Stormwatch and Suicide Squad, the same can’t necessarily be said for JLA, Unchained and Nightwing. In fact, Unchained remains one of the top sellers in the industry.

However, those three are ending for what appear to be story reasons. Unchained scribe Scott Snyder is simply wrapping up the story he wanted to tell, but has left open the possibility that he and artist Jim Lee will return with another story at some time in the future. JLA is transitioning into a new title, Justice League United, which we’ll address later. And Nightwing’s end appears to be tied to the events of the ongoing mega-event Forever Evil.

Nick: Unchained and JLA are both on my pull list as well, and have been very high-quality books since their creation last year. I haven’t read a single issue of Stormwatch or Suicide Squad since the New 52 began, and Teen Titans I’ve also never read, but heard nothing but bad things about.

Teen Titans featured some ... odd characterizations and design choices.
Teen Titans featured some … odd characterizations and design choices.

Greg: The only of these books I haven’t read at least an issue of is Stormwatch. Teen Titans was a wreck pretty much from the beginning of the New 52, and Suicide Squad was entertaining at times. As many of our readers know, JLA was a personal favorite of mine with Geoff Johns at the helm, and Superman: Unchained has been one of DC’s very best books from the get-go. It’s still my favorite Superman book on the stands and one of my favorite superhero ongoings.

Nick: Honestly, I’m fine with Unchained ending, as the book’s main draw was the Snyder/Lee combo. With Snyder’s schedule increasingly busy and Lee’s notorious struggles with delays, it may be best to end the story on a high note after the first arc wraps up.

Greg: Agreed completely. This was Snyder and Lee’s baby, and it’s appropriate to end it wherever they’re comfortable.

Nick: But, let’s address the elephant in the room: Nightwing. I don’t think DC will kill him off, but I suppose it is technically possible. I’m more willing to bet that he’ll get a new look and a return to Gotham, perhaps as part of a new Bat-related series we’ll touch on in a bit.

Well, that doesn't look promising for Mr. Grayson.
Well, that doesn’t look promising for Mr. Grayson.

Greg: I have to confess I’m becoming more and more concerned about the fate of Dick Grayson. Even though I didn’t regularly read this Nightwing series after the first arc, I feel bad for writer Kyle Higgins. He clearly loved the character and fought to distance him from Batman (arguably too much, but that’s up to each reader). Unfortunately, from the beginning of the New 52 it became clear that Nightwing was still operating in Batman’s shadow (which was exactly my fear when Dick was “demoted” back to being Nightwing after a great stint as Batman).

"Death of the Family" was just the latest in a long line of Batman crossover events that left Nightwing in need of rescue.
“Death of the Family” was just the latest in a long line of Batman crossover events that left Nightwing in need of rescue.

Wherever this is leading, I just hope DC respects Nightwing’s legacy more than it has with some other characters in the past. I have some difficulty understanding the current direction, but I’ll give it a shot.

Nick: It’s certainly a tough time for fans of Dick Grayson, but I suppose we’ll have to wait until April to see what comes of the former Robin.

Greg: But as some titles die, others are given life.

I have no idea what's going on in this image, but ... hey, it's Sinestro!
I have no idea what’s going on in this image, but … hey, it’s Sinestro!

April’s not all doom and gloom for DC fans. Titles debuting include Secret Origins, Justice League United, Forever Evil Aftermath: Batman vs. Bane, Aquaman and the Others, Sinestro and the new weekly Batman Eternal.

Nick: Yeah, it’s a loaded slate of new books, all of which at least interest me to some degree. Whether it’s more Snyder-inspired Bat stories, a Jeff Lemire-written Justice League title, a new Aquaman series or the revival of the classic Secret Origins concept, DC certainly seems poised to maintain its stranglehold on my wallet.

Greg: And you didn’t even mention the book that most interests me. Finally, I’ll get a Sinestro ongoing! I confess that I have very little exposure to writer Cullen Bunn’s prior work, but my friends who are diehard Marvelites have been singing his praises for years. It’ll be interesting to finally see Sinestro get the treatment select other villains have gotten, namely the chance to have his own monthly adventures.

Nick: It’s especially interesting given that Cullen Bunn will also be writing a villain-based book for Marvel — Magneto. Perhaps tragically motivated, morally ambiguous antiheroes are his bag, baby.


Greg: Hopefully Sinestro doesn’t become all 6’s and 7’s, man.

But in any event, we must also address the financial albatross that Batman Eternal will be for the two of us. I’m not sure the necessity of a weekly Batman comic, but I can’t deny my interest.

Nick: Nah, it’s not necessary, but it sounds cool as hell, and that’s really all that matters. Plus, Snyder has made it sound like it’ll be essential reading for when Batman comes back to the present after Zero Year.

One thing I’ll bring up: What do you make of the criticism that since the New 52 began, we’ve seen fewer and fewer unique titles and more and more titles that feature Batman, Superman, Green Lantern Wonder Woman or have Justice League in the title? Sinestro will technically fall under the Lantern family, and Aquaman and the Others undoubtedly got the green light as a result of the financial and critical success Aquaman has enjoyed in his solo title as of late.

Greg: It’s an extremely valid, extremely accurate criticism. The counter, of course, is that books with “Bat,” “Green Lantern” and “Justice League” in the title simply sell better than other books. And that’s undeniably true, especially for the Batman line. For instance, I buy all five of the current Green Lantern-related books even though only three regularly impress me.

The brochure said there would only be a few Jokers.
The brochure said there would only be a few Jokers.

Still, perhaps if readers didn’t feel obligated to buy four books in a single character’s line, they’d be more open to diverse options. I’d be much more likely to try out Swamp Thing, for instance, if I wasn’t dropping so much money on Lantern and Justice League books already. And the same issue applies to Marvel with its litany of Avengers, X-Men and Wolverine titles.

Nick: You make a series of great points. I buy multiple Lantern and Bat books out of habit, and as a result, there isn’t much money left for experimentation, especially since both companies are constantly rolling out event miniseries that wind up taking up another slot that would normally be available for something like Hawkeye or Swamp Thing.

But in addition to some new DC titles in April, we’re also getting the long-awaited return of one of Marvel’s most iconic series.

The ol' web-head's almost ready to swing again.
The ol’ web-head’s almost ready to swing again.

We all knew it was just a matter of time before Peter Parker returned to the land of the living to reclaim his rightful role as Spider-Man, especially with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 arriving in theaters later this year.

However, with great excitement comes great trepidation. Many fans, including myself, are pumped about the return of the one true Spidey, while others have been impressed by Otto Octavius’ run as Superior Spider-Man, and are dreading the retirement of the character. Although, if I had to bet, I’d wager Marvel will find a way to cater to both groups and will have a role for Otto at some point in the near future.

Greg: I haven’t read a contemporary Spider-Man monthly comic in about a decade, so I really don’t have much weight behind any of my opinions on the series, but this turn of events was certainly predictable, given the movie’s impending release. Still, I have to confess I never expected Superior Spider-Man to last as long as it has. The book proved to be exceedingly popular and one of the more enduring examples of a “villain as the hero” series.

Doc Ock made some familiar enemies during his tenure as Spider-Man.
Doc Ock made some familiar enemies during his tenure as Spider-Man.

It’ll be interesting to see how Dan Slott makes Peter’s adventures interesting again. One of the views Superior supporters have expressed is that the change in lead character made the book more exciting and less predictable than it had become in recent years. One of the most interesting aspects of Peter’s return will be how his old teammates react to “his” actions over the last year (with Ock in control oh his body).

Nick: I only read the first issue of Superior, and while it was interesting, it was a finance-related casualty. However, there are some rumors that we may not be getting Peter as we formerly knew him. Apparently Peter may be returning as an amnesiac.

I haven’t regularly read a 616 Spider-Man title since the days of “One More Day,” but I’ll probably give this one a shot for a bit. While Peter is returning to Marvel, we also found out this month that we can expect some familiar faces to return to current DC continuity in the coming months.

Greg: Indeed, two fan favorites (particularly among those who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s) are returning to the fold: Ted Kord and Wally West.

Wally and Linda forever!
Wally and Linda forever!

DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns dropped a bombshell in an interview with Newsarama: the second (and most familiar to the public) Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, will be returning to the DC Universe in Forever Evil #7.

Nick: Ted Kord has been teased in the New 52 several times, but the only Blue Beetle we’ve been treated to is Jaime Reyes, the Scarab-powered version of the character. Here’s hoping that any Ted Kord return will be handled by either Geoff Johns or the good old Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis team.

Greg: As a brief refresher, Kord was the Blue Beetle when DC relaunched in the 1980s after Crisis on Infinite Earths. His humorous exploits as part of the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis Justice League of America in the ’80s and early ’90s are the stuff of legends. Ted was killed off in 2005’s “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” one-shot, so this return is nearly a decade in the making.

I loved Ted growing up, and his friendship with Booster Gold made for one of the funniest pairings in the history of comics. However, I hope this doesn’t leave Jaime Reyes out in the cold. Thanks to the Young Justice cartoon and, to a lesser extent, last year’s Threshold, I’ve grown fond of Jaime. Perhaps we’ll see a partnership form between him and Ted, along with the return of Booster Gold.

Fire often took delight in turning down the advances of Beetle and Booster.

Nick: As for Wally, I’m not as familiar with his print incarnation as you are, so I’ll let you speak on the significance of his return. I know fans have been clamoring for it since the New 52 began.

Greg: DC head honcho Dan DiDio is no doubt relaxing a bit, since he’s been hearing the following question at every convention since 2011: “What’s the deal with Wally West?”

Wally has a huge (and loud) fanbase, but for good reason. Wally, who spent the Silver and Bronze ages as Kid Flash, became the Flash after his mentor, Barry Allen, died during 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. From that point on, Wally became one of the very few DC or Marvel superheroes that was truly allowed to age and evolve. We watched Wally go from an immature, selfish kid into one of the greatest superheroes in DC lore. In fact, a strong argument could be made that more great stories have been written about Wally than Barry.

Wally was given a chance to get married, have kids and really live the full life of a superhero, growing and maturing in a way that perhaps only Dick Grayson had achieved before him. All that being said, I also like Barry a lot!

How dare you like something I don't!
How dare you like something I don’t!

It’s tough for those of us who are fans of both characters, but much rejoicing was evident when this announcement was made. However, I’ll admit to being a bit scared. As you know, Nick, I had come around on the Wally issue and was settling into the “perhaps he’s best left alone” camp. After all, not all characters have been bettered in the New 52. It remains to be seen how this Wally compares to the one with which I grew up.

Nick: And finally, we’ll touch on perhaps the biggest bit of comic-related news this month.

Hopefully this doesn't get delayed as often as "Sin City 2."
Hopefully this doesn’t get delayed as often as “Sin City 2.”

We were both pretty stoked for the summer of 2015, and the one-two punch of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Superman vs. Batman” (for lack of a better title), but we recently found out that DC’s first true team-up movie is being pushed to May 2016.

Initially, my reaction was panic, as I kind of assumed that because the movie was facing a yearlong delay, it likely didn’t bode well for the work that had been done so far or the quality of the script. However, after further reflection, I’m starting to realize that this may be for the best. It’s clear that WB knows how important this movie is, and I think the delay decision was made in an effort to ensure that the DC universe finally gets firm footing on the big screen so we can finally get the long-awaited Justice League movie.

Greg: That’s my line of thinking as well. It’s true that big production delays are, historically, bad news for major motion pictures. However, I had huge concerns about the production schedule for this film from the get-go. A release date just two years from the release of “Man of Steel” isn’t nearly enough time to get a good script, cast and CGI together, especially with Wonder Woman added in. I simply didn’t see how it could be done and put out by summer 2015 without losing a lot in terms of quality.

Nick: Another positive aspect here is that it gives DC time to plot future moves before this Batman/Superman movie is ever released. Hopefully they’ll have a very good idea of a timeframe for Justice League by the time we see Affleck and Henry Cavill square off on screen. But again, before we ever get there, it’s imperative that they use this extra time to make sure they get “Batman vs. Superman” absolutely right. I feel pretty safe saying it’s the most important film DC has ever produced. Everything rides on this one.

Greg: There’s no question, especially given how oddly resistant Warner Bros. has been toward producing films about other DC heroes besides Batman and Superman.

Nick: Well, that about wraps it up for our initial Rundown. We’ll be back next week with a special Giant-Sized Hard-Traveling Fanboys, in which we’ll delve into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the impact it’s had both on the comics and film industries.

Greg: So long from our corner of cyberspace. As always, we welcome your feedback, which can be sent to GregP@placetobenation.com, NickD@placetobenation.com or on Twitter @gphillips8652 and @nickduke87.