Volume two ships today so I thought I'd move my look at volume one into a thread dedicated to discussing all three volumes.
VOLUME ONE: "THE END OF ERAS":
This collection is divided into six parts: 1) Heroes, 2) Mysteries, 3) The Last Battles, 4) Other worlds, 5) Ending and Beginnings, and 6) Heroes Redux. Each chapter is supplemented with a brief introduction, as well as an essay to close each part: "Remembering Julius Schwartz" by Eliot S! Maggin, "Comic Book College" by J.M. DeMatties, "Dad's Armies" by Andy Kubert, "We'd All be Millionaires" by Jack C. Harris, and "Introducing He-Man" by Paul Kupperburg. In lieu of an essay, the final section features a maxiseries proposal (circa 1986/1987, by Alan Moore. The introduction, "The End of An Era," is written by Paul Levitz and is as entertaining as it is informative.
As is my wont, I read all of the textual material first, but this is primarily a collection of comic books, 33 of them, in fact, plus certain other features such as a continuity from the daily comic strip The World's Greatest Super-Heroes, the "Masters of the Universe" preview insert and selections from the 1982 DC Style Guide with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. I own only eight of the comics reprinted within, but I have actually read only two of them. (the comic strip story is something I would have read back in the day, but I don't remember anything about it.) I'm looking forward to reading them all in the days to come.
ALAN MOORE'S "TWILIGHT" PITCH: This is a proposal for a 12-issue maxi-series circa 1986-87. It is divided into three sections: first, he discusses crossover series in general and what he's trying to achieve with this one; second, he describes the various "Houses" and individual characters; third, he outlines the plot. This isn't a full script (more like a summary), but if you've ever read one of Moore's scripts you have an idea of what to expect from this one.
First, it's a bit unsettling to hear him say, "I'm probably still intoxicated by the Watchmen deal"; later, he draws a comparison to Dave Gibbons' mock-up photographs of the Minutemen in their early, innocent days: "Look at them all being happy. They didn't know then how it would turn out."
Part of Moore's thesis, he spoke of how Frank Miller's Dark Knight, by providing at least an ending, established Batman as "a legend rather than an endlessly meadering continuity." To that end, he used the Time Trapper to set up a "Fluke Zone" a decade or so in the future in which alternate realities (such as Dark Knight) would co-exist. Reportedly, Moore's Fluke Zone sent too many DC heroes into the "undiscovered country" for Dick Giodano's taste and he turned it down.
I do suspect certain aspects of Moore's plot did eventually make their way into DC continuity (Hyper-Time, Armageddon: 2001), albeit in watered down form. Even next month's "Future State" sounds very much like a watered down version of Moore's Twilight. I'm not going to try to summarize Moore's 21-page pitch here because I will never be able to do it justice. I will be content that at least two of you have expressed an interest in buying volume one after my previous post, so I'm hoping you'll see read it for yourselves. I will say this: although the plot has its dark aspects, it is basically optimistic (with one really sick twist at the very end).
The best thing about volume one overall is that it's only the first of three spotlighting this decade. one devoted to the experiments that resulted from the search for future directions, and focusing on Crisis on Infinite Earths and the new DC Universe that emerged in its aftermath.
VOLUME TWO: "THE EXPERIMENTS"
This volume is divided into three sections with essays:
ANYTHING GOES: "Something Different" by Barbara Slate
THE ROAD TO VERTIGO: "Twenty-Five Years of Vetigo" by Paul Levitz
50 YEARS AND ONWARD: "The Experiments" by Marv Wolfman and "Crossing the Atlantic" by Dave Gibbons.
I've read all the essays and the introduction (also by Paul Levitz), but I haven't yet decided whether I want to tackle this section-by-section, story-by-story, or the entire volume at once.
I plan to read much of this volume, but not all of this volume (at this time). As Cap put it in "This Week in Comics," "We know which of this stuff had legs." I'm not going to dedicate a lot of time to Alan Moore's Swamp Thing or Watchmen, Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns or Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol. Cap also said, "So really, all a post-1980s fan would be reading this for is the stuff that didn't stick very well." That's what I intend to concentrate on.
To be honest, I find this topic to be a little bit intimidating. Whereas I had the best intentions when I launched this discussion, I have recently decided to read fewer comics and post less frequently. OTOH, once I push through the first section, I should be able to career through the remaining two. To that end, allow me to address the two comics from section one I do not intend to reread at this time.
CAMELOT 3000: There has already been a certain amount of discussion of Camelot 3000 on the "This Week in Comics" thread, discussion in which I did not participate because I haven't read Camelot 3000. I've read a whole lot of good things about it, and although I bought the entire series ata quarter sale in the mid-'90s, I haven't gotten around to actually reading it yet. It has been collected in a variety of formats, but I cannot justify buying it when I have owned it for some 25 years but haven't actually read it. Although I have tried on two separate occasions, I never got past the first issue.
INFINITY, INC.: This is one of my favorite titles from the '80s. Whereas issue #1 is a better introduction to the series than #14 (the one included in this collection), it is not particularly experimental. #14 was chosen because it was Todd MacFarlane's first issue, and his layouts were highly experimental. Now I'm going to admit something I've never posted here before: I liked them at the time. I did, however, consider them to be specific to Infinity, Inc. When MacFarlane switched to Marvel and began penciling The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man, I was glad that his editors forced him to employ more traditional layouts (arguably the best work of his career). MacFarlane's distinctive layouts were marred this first time out (I realize now, after having recently read a lengthy run of Thor) by inker Tony DeZuniga, who is not a good inker of superhero stories, IMO.
ARAK, SON OF THUNDER: I have Warlord #48 but I never read the "Arak" preview until today. Not my thing.
AMETHYST: I have Legion of Super-Heroes #298 but I never read the "Amethyst" preview until today. Not my thing.
CAPTAIN CARROT: I have New Teen Titans #16 but I never read the "Captain Carrot" preview until today. Not my thing.
ARION: I have Warlord #55 but I never read the "Arion" preview until today. Not my thing.
SUPER JRS.: I do not have Best of DC Digest #58 (nor any DC Digest) and I couldn't even bring myself to read it today. It's DC's version of "Little Archie" or "Baby Looney tunes" and I just can't see the appeal.
In his essay, Marv Wolfman discussed how the free preview inserts came to be. Obviously, they don't work on me. Even today, I see free previews as the publishing equivalent of tying a pork chop around your neck to get the dog to play with you. Well, this dog's not bitin'. In most cases, I have already made up my mind whether or not to buy a new series, rendering the preview superfluous in either case.
So what does (or did) work with me? Those three free "DC Samplers."
They covered DC's all of DC's output, not just the "experimental" titles, but the giveaways were themselves experimental, and much more successful (as far as I was concerned, anyway), than the free previews. Each series was given a double-page spread for the creators to sell the title as the creators saw fit. Most of them were quite creative in their own right (notably Alan Moore's "This is the Place" promoting Swamp Thing), but other than that, few if any have been seen since.
I just flipped through them to confirm that all of the above titles were included, and discovered many other "experimental" titles which could have been included in this volume but were not. The "Samplers" didn't convince me to buy any series that the free previews didn't, but I did at least read all of the ads, and they led to to many other series I was not reading.
NATHANIEL DUSK: I came to Nathaniel Dusk in a roundabout fashion, as I recall, following Don McGregor. The Killraven graphic novel led me to other Killraven stories in Amazing Adventures and to Black Panther stories in Jungle Action. From there I follwed him to his indepentent work (Sabre, Detectives, Inc., Ragamuffins, etc., all as backissues), and it was Gene Colan's work on the latter two which led me to the two Nathanial Dusk series. Or I might have followed McGregor directly to Nathanial Dusk, because that was written by McGregor, too.
In any case, the thing I do remember clearly is that it was Nathanial Dusk that turned me into a life-long Gene Colan fan from that moment on. Colan has a distinctive style, often described as "cinematic," and the one thing I had always heard about it was that his uninked pencils were even more impressive. Some inkers had trouble embellishing his work, so the decision was made to reproduce Colan's pencils colored but un-inked for this series. The results were impressive.
The first four-issue mini-series, "Lovers Die at Dusk," spawned a sequel, "Apple Peddlers Die at Noon." A third, "Hookers Die at Midnight," was in the works, but the difficulties of producing legible published pages from un-inked art at that time squelched the project after two mini-series. Oddly (especially give one of the choices in part three), this collection reprints only the first eight pages of the first issue.
AMBUSH BUG: This is a series I had heard a lot about, but did not read until I bought the first two mini-series and all previous solo appearances at a quarter sale in the '90s. I read them, but I barely remember anything about them, other than that, in one of the mini-series (maybe both), the cliffhanger of each issue was that Ambush Bug came face-to-face with Darkseid, but the following issue ignored it. I found Ambugh Bug to be mildly amusing, but not outright funny. The issue reprinted here, Secret Origins #48, doesn't really fit the theme of the collection as it was published in 1990.
ANGEL LOVE: I never read a copy of Angel Love. Why would I? I'm not exactly its target audience, then or now. But it has ended up being my favorite inclusion in this section, aa much for writer/artist Barbara Slate's essay as for the comic book itself. At the time slate was approached by DC publisher Jeanette Khan, she had a successful feminist greeting card company featuring her character Ms. Liz, who had spun off into a strip in Cosmopolitan magazine and a short, animated feature on The Today Show.
Slate takes us step-by-step how she through the process of creating Angel Love, from her interview right up until the time it was canceled. Khan showed her portfolio to her group of executive editors (Slate mentions Mike Gold as her biggest booster), and the series was approved. Khan showed her the character bible for Lois Lane and assigned her to create one for Angel Love. Slate's first editor, Karen Berger, commissioned a script, and Paul Levitz and dick Giordano taught her how to plot by color code.
Slate's first three scripts were rejected by Berger. It was at that point Berger suggested, "Angel tries to put in her diaphragm, and it goes sailing across the room." Betty and Veronica never had problems like that!
"Abortion, cocaine, cancer, sexual molestation was what I wrote about for the next year. I had no idea it would make such as impact. I was accused of trying to destroy the comic book industry. I got fan mail from abused kids. For some, I had to call their local authorities. Young girls wrote, 'I am you, Angel' or 'You are my only friend.' Teachers from inner city schools thanked me for creating a comic that their kids could relate to. Comics Buyers' Guide, the paper of the comics industry, printed the entire first issue!"
Unfortunately, Angel Love was canceled after only eight issues. Slate lobbied Khan to allow her to wrap up her ongoing plot threads, and Khan agreed to a 48-page one-shot special. Slate now teaches a class on how to do comics, and she's working on her autobiography in graphic novel form. When it's published, I, for one, will definitely read it.
"THE ROAD TO VERTIGO"
This section is smaller than I would have suspected, only three stories. It is supplemented by as essay, "Twenty-Five Years of Vertigo" by Paul Levitz, which not only detailed the beginning and the history of the imprints, but also sung the praises of Karen Berger.
SWAMP THING: The issue included in this collection is #40, "The Curse." I myself might have included (the admittedly often-reprinted) "Anatomy Lesson," but the title was still (arguably) basically super-hero oriented at that point. Prior to Vertigo, writers had to couch stories such as this (about menstruation) in highly symbolic terms (see Adventure Comics #313, 1963). DC's two-volume (so far) reprint of the Alan Moore run is one of the most lovingly restored collections of its kind, and I doubt I will ever read an individual issue in any other format.
DOOM PATROL: "My" version of the Doom Patrol lasted only five issues starting in 1987 but, in a classic case of bad timing, I stuck with it until it switched to "New Format" with issue #19, which began Grant Morrison's four-part reboot of the team with "Crawling From the Wreckage." The issue included in this run is #25. I have read some of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, but not (nearly) all. I have, however, purchased the Grant Morrison Doom Patrol Omnibus which I intend to read as part of a massive Silver Age-to-present "project" at some point in the future.
SANDMAN: The story included here is "The Sound of Her Wings" which introduced Neil Gaiman's "Death" character and served not only as an epilogue for the first storyline but a prologue to the second. I specifically gave the series a pass back in 1989 when it was reported that this would not be a revamp of the Kirby character, but rather an entirely new one. I had a roommate at the time (not the "Baby Huey" one) who brought me aboard with the "Seasons of Mist" storyline.
"50 YEARS AND ONWARD"
This section includes some key issues, but none that I would recommend reading removed from the series.
RONIN #1: The thing I remember most about Ronin #1 was its price tag: $2.50. That was most expensive new comic book ever. I gave serious thought as to whether I wanted to spend that much money on a comic book. In "The Masters of the Comic Book Art," Frank Miller said that the styles Goseki Kojima (Lone Wolf & Cub) and Jean Giraud (a.k.a. "Moebius") "collided on [him] at roughly the same time" and Ronin was the result. After reading LW&C and the work of Moebius later myself, then looking at Ronin again, Miller's influences are perfectly obvious. Today Ronin is remembered mostly as a (partial) repository of Rob Leifeld's swipe file.
THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS #1: Ronin and DKR back-to-back makes this a Miller-heavy section, but I guess you can't do a retrospective of DC in the '80s without them. At this point, anyone who hasn't read DKR simply doesn't want to.
WATCHMEN #1: Ditto.
HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE #1-2: This is the one that has me scratching my head. I loved History of the DC Universe and have referred to it many times over the years. I also have it in its own hardcover edition which also includes a passel of essays. The continuity it describes stood for decades. I was sorely disappointed when DC offered no such guide to the post-Flashpoint universe. But to include both issues in their entirety in a collection of this nature? That's a waste of 100 pages that could have been used to showcase more variety.
WHO'S WHO: This section contains seven random (?) entries, including the All-Star Squadron, the Blackhawks, the Green Lantern Corps and the Outsiders. Just when you think they're concentrating on groups, they throw in the Huntress, Red tornado and 'Mazing Man. ('Mazing Man #1 is another issue they could have included had they not dedicated 100 pages to the The History of the DCU.)
Conclusion: This collection is a mixed bag; it bepends on what you're looking for. I was most interested in the first section, which comprised the most material I had not previously read. But if you're looking for an overview of the decade, well... you can see for yourself what's included and decide for yourself whether or not it's worth it.