Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
On the eve of Comic-Con International: San Diego, the "Trinity” of DC Comics has already been making news.
But are Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman better for the all these changes? The Magic 8-Ball says “Ask Again Later,” as it always does. But the preliminary news is mostly good.
Marvel Comics star Brian Michael Bendis has begun writing both Superman and Action Comics at DC Comics.
The biggest changes have hit the Man of Steel. In DC’s 2011 “New 52” publishing initiative, the character was rebooted in ways both major and minor. But even that didn’t last, as the 2016 “Rebirth” initiative upended things again, combining both the New 52 Superman and Lois Lane with the pre-2011 versions.
Despite the head-spinning impact of these updates, most fans were pretty pleased. Both the pre-2011 and Rebirth versions of Superman held aspects that worked well for the character – so the combo version gave different generations of Super-readers something to like. The stories launching from these vertiginous shifts were genuinely suspenseful, since readers had no idea what the Last Son of Krypton would look like at the end.
One thing that returned with the merger is the marriage of Superman and Lois Lane, who had been returned to a pre-marriage state in 2011. That’s a welcome development, as the marriage eliminates all that nonsense about Lois being unable to recognize Superman when he puts on a pair of glasses. Instead, she’s part of the game, helping her mate hide his biggest secret, while carving an impressive journalism career on her own. That checks a lot of boxes for a lot fans.
In addition, Clark and Lois have a son, Jonathan, with super-powers of his own. The pre-2011 couple had a son, too, but he was an adopted Kryptonian kid from the Phantom Zone, one with no blood ties to either parent. The current version is a true son of the House of El, as well as a true son of, um, the House of Lane? Well, he’s a son of Earth for sure. That resonates nicely, as well as giving DC writers a true Superboy to play with – resulting in the delightful Super-Sons series, that teamed the wholesome, somewhat naïve Jonathan with Batman’s ultra-cynical bad boy, Damian “Robin” Wayne.
That was then. Because now comes writer Brian Michael Bendis.
Bendis has been, for the last 18 years, “Mr. Marvel Comics.” His achievements at the House of Ideas are legendary, ranging from rebooting the Avengers franchise (prior to the movies) to co-creating Jessica Jones. His recent move to DC Comics sent shock waves through comics fandom, and even caused some ripples in the mainstream entertainment media.
Bendis chose as his first project the biggest gun of all: Superman. The Superman series went on hiatus for a Bendis-written, six-issue miniseries titled Man of Steel, which introduced the concepts and themes he meant to pursue. Then Superman re-launched with a new first issue, written by Bendis. The writer also took over the other main Super-book, Action Comics, when it reached the magic number 1000.
And so far it’s been up, up and away.
A previous writer had un-deaded Superman’s pop Jor-El, who is now scarred, traumatized and kinda scary. Bendis is using that character to complicate Superman’s life; Super-grandpa wants to teach Jonathan how to be a proper Kryptonian with a tour of the galaxy, and the boy wants to go. Since the Kents couldn’t stop their super-powered son if they tried, Lois went along as chaperone.
This sets up two storylines going forward: Lois and Jonathan on their magical mystery tour, and Clark Kent dealing with their unexplained absence at the Daily Planet – plus the emotional void it leaves in his own life.
Complicating matters further is a new character named Rogal Zaar, who claims to have destroyed Krypton and has come to Earth to finish his genocide. He promptly gets most of the way to his goal by destroying the Bottle City of Kandor, leaving only Superman, Supergirl and the Phantom Zone prisoners to finish what he calls his “cleansing.”
This isn’t the most original idea in the world. A number of stories over the decades have pinned the destruction of Krypton on a person or group rather than a natural disaster, only to be proven false in the end. One such person or group is Black Zero – it’s been both – currently on display on Syfy’s Krypton.
But the good news is that this character is more powerful than Superman and Supergirl put together, which makes his claim plausible. Also, what little we know of his background ties him to a number of major powers in the DC Universe, which means we should see those connections bear fruit in future stories – connections which include the Green Lanterns, the New Gods, Wonder Woman’s Greco-Roman gods, and the original Shazam.
Bendis is not without his critics, but so far none of the usual barbs will stick to his Super-project.
Bendis is known for his overlapping, cynical dialogue – but that is absent in his Super-characters, who deal with each other in a much more wholesome, straightforward way. Bendis is often criticized for ignoring past stories (called “continuity”) when picking up a new character – but he has clearly done his homework on Superman, writing knowledgeably about Fortress of Solitude history and Supergirl’s current status quo.
Speaking of the Fortress: It’s been destroyed, and Superman has created a new one in the Bermuda Triangle. Speaking of Supergirl: Her dormant title will be revived for her pursuit of Rogal Zaar.
Yes, the Kandorians are dead (at least for now), Jonathan and Lois are missing and Kal-El has to rebuild his life in both identities. But what’s misery for the Action Ace is turning into good reading for Super-fans.
Batman and Catwoman tried to get married. Really, they tried very hard.
Meanwhile, ex-CIA analyst and current Batman writer Tom King has been both kind and cruel to the Dark Knight.
Batman and Catwoman were due to be married last month, as most of the civilized world has probably read somewhere on the Internet. Spoiler, which is also all over the Internet: It didn’t happen.
The whys and wherefores I will leave to the books themselves: Batman #50 and Catwoman #1. That’s because Batman has been such a terrific book during the lead-up to the non-nuptials that I won’t spoil a bit of it for you.
King took over the Gotham Guardian during Rebirth, with Batman #1. His take started out with excellent insights on all the major players, and just got better – amazingly, the series continued to build toward Batman #50 without showing its cards. Eventually he got to what may be the best Superman/Batman team-up in DC’s long history: Lois and Clark and Selina and Bruce on a double date at Smallville’s county fair (Batman #37). Honestly, these characters have never been written so well.
And, despite the seeming climax of Batman #50, King says he’s got a lot more to say. As he told Entertainment Weekly, he’s “halfway through what I hope to be an epic story of the Batman’s heart being broken and perhaps rebuilt and perhaps broken again.”
Stay tuned, Bat-fans, for the next 50 issues. Same Bat-writer, same Bat-title.
Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson will begin writing Wonder Woman in November.
Finally we get to the Amazing Amazon, who will get a new writer in November. That’s months away, but it already has Wonder Woman fans excited.
That writer is G. Willow Wilson, who might be a little familiar to DC reader from stints on some of their superheroes. Or from her two mature-readers series, Cairo and Air, the former involving Middle Eastern mythology, the latter involving the spirit of Amelia Earhart.
But what Wilson is most famous for – and what has fans excited – is that she is the co-creator of Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan at Marvel Comics, and has been writing that successful character since its inception. Ms. Marvel is a charming, light-hearted book about a teenage Muslim girl from New Jersey who suddenly develops super-powers – and whose big heart proves up to the task every month.
“Heart” is a pretty important part of Wonder Woman’s appeal as well. Big things are expected come November.
As noted at the beginning of this column, SDCC is nigh, with all of its big-time announcements. In the case of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, no news will be good news: the “Big Three” are already in good hands.
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