Sunday, September 18, 2016

Harley Quinn, the superhero* of millennials, tops August 2016 sales along DC Comics

Now that the comic book sales numbers of August 2016 are finally available at the Diamond Comic Distributors's site, we are clear on three things: 
  • August 2016 has been the highest mark for comic book sales in nearly 20 years,
  • DC got the biggest share (outselling September 2011, the month of the New 52 reboot), and
  • Harley Quinn was its best selling property.
That's right. Not Batman, or Superman, or the Justice League, but  
Harley Quinn.

Outselling Marvel is an extraordinary achievement for DC Comics, but it has happened several times since 1996, especially around September. This time, however, it happened during the best selling month since December 1996, just as DC was going back to its basics, after years of trying different approaches.

Within 'the New 52' era of DC Comics (September 2011 — June 2016), the history of all its characters was deeply modified; romance, relationships, comedy, lightheartedness, and legacy were toned down in favor of violence and grimness. However, one of the most successful characters during that era was Harley Quinn, who broke with its conventions.

Harley in The Adventures of Batman & Robin's episode "Harley's Holiday" (1994),
along with Bud and Lou, two of the New 52 casualties.
Thanks mostly to Batman: The Animated Series and the Batman: Arkham video games, by late 2013, Harley Quinn was popularly known as the henchwoman and codependent girlfriend of the Joker, a recurring enemy of Batman, friend of Poison Ivy, a histrionic inmate of Arkham Asylum, and a member of the Suicide Squad. 
Harley, from the Batman: Arkham Knight video game.
Consequently, at least in theory, her own title, written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, shouldn't have broken the dark tone of the New 52; only it totally did, it had great selling numbers, and it paved the way for other titles breaking the mold.

Harley Quinn, vol. 2, #0 (November 2013).
The early stories of Harley in her Conner and Palmiotti series, didn't rush to redefine her immorality, and they showed great violence; however, they also established her as an independent, industrious, and empathetic woman who only attacks cruel people. In Harley Quinn #0 (2013, vol. 2) she has almost nothing, but in issue #1, she becomes the landlady and matriarch figure of a group of friendly misfits who live in a building she gets by chance.

Throughout the series, despite her evident madness (and apparent mental disability) Harley always succeeds in whatever she decides to do. Eventually, she gains the approval of Power Girl and Batman and goes on to establish her own team of vigilantes.

Harley as Power Girl's "sidekick".
While comics have had feminist icons since the time of Sheena (1937) or Wonder Woman (1941), they are few and always represented traditional values. Comics have always focused on stories about white male heroes for white male readers1. Harley Quinn is the first superheroine to be both different (female, Jewish, deranged, and teased as bisexual), and champion the different. Undoubtedly, this has struck an emotional chord with millennial readers, as her title's success has only increased with time.

The DC superheroes after Rebirth (Harley is at the bot.  
After a couple of attempts to change the tone of the New 52 continuity last year2, this June, DC Comics began publishing Rebirth, a series in which the characters return to their original traditions and values, including hope, legacy, romance and optimism. As a result, its first title, DC Universe Rebirth # 1, was the the bestseller of month, DC Comics dominated the market with the rest of the series in July, and nine out of the top ten in August3.

However, the biggest surprise of August 2016 was the relaunch of Harley Quinn # 1 (vol. 3, August 2016), which sold the impressive amount of 400,000 copies, beating its previous sales, and all the other titles of the same month, including Batman.

Harley Quinn, vol.3, #1, and Suicide Squad #1

The August 2016 comic book sales reflect a major shift in popular culture. The sales of two Suicide Squad titles exceed that of the Justice League. Harley Quinn, appeared in those titles as well as in the first two issues of her own series, amounting 4 appearances in the top ten list. If DC had to define his trinity —Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman—, based on its most popular characters of that month, its members would be Batman, Harley Quinn, and Supergirl 4 .

So far, DC Comics's success these last two months is extraordinary 5and the best part of it is that the company has found a way to diversify without losing its traditions, reconnecting with their long time fans, keeping the recent fans, and gaining new ones. It's safe to say that Rebirth was a brilliant play by the guys taking decisions at DC: Dan DiDio, Jim Lee and Geoff Johns. 


* I call Harley Quinn a superhero because that's what she is becoming. She also has the full deal, with a double identity, a skintight costume, and super-powers.

1 Save Spawn an anti-hero, whose title topped sales during the mid-90s for some reason (the 90s were weird), forerunning the success of Harley's.
2 In April 2015, Convergence teased readers with the idea of restoring the old DC continuity, and since June 2015, the 'DC You' titles tried to increase the diversity among authors to attract a more diverse readership.
3 Only Marvel's Amazing Spider-man #16 made it, and in the #4 spot. 
4 For more information of how Harley Quinn is has become more popular than Wonder Woman, go to

5 Even if it happened for two and a half years, starting in January 1999.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Zack Snyder tweets the first Justice League trailer.

The bits in the trailer are visually similar to Batman v Superman, even with the bluish hue, yet the tome is very similar to that of a Marvel movie.

Snyder might have taken notes from his critics, besides the humor, and more joyful attitude of the characters, Ezra Miller looks a lot les like a slacker and more like the TV version.

It is also noteworthy that Bruce Wayne is the one recruiting other heroes, not Batman.

It is also noteworthy that the Elongated Man is not included in this movie. Well, no, that's comes without saying, but I noticed anyway.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Elongated Man might make his live action debut in The Flash, season 3

According to, The CW is casting a character that fits Ralph Dibny's description for the third season of The Flash.

"For Season 3, the CW hit is casting the major recurring character of Barry’s slightly older, slightly geekier contemporary, a guy who is as smart as he is intuitive. As such, this newcomer doesn’t buy Barry’s nice guy routine and sets out to learn what he’s hiding — all while concealing some secrets of his own…."

(sources: Den of Geek, TV Line)

Remember, the Elongated Man debuted in The Flash #112 (the 8th issue featuring Barry instead of Jay). In that story, he is introduced as a superhero rival of Flash. Ralph beats him to solve so many crimes he suspects him of being a criminal. Of course, the explanation is that Ralph is just a better detective.

This is a great move for the series. Ever since Flash: Rebirth, DC has limited the Flash mythos to Barry, Iris, Reverse Flash, the Rogues Gallery and the now altered story of the Allens, forgetting many important elements of the silver age: Ralph and Sue Dibny, Kid Flash, Earth-2 Flash and Dexter Myles (not to mention the occasional otherworldly villains like Mazdan, Katmos or the Breedans). Hopefully the series will also include Sue, Dexter and the rest.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Rebirth Universe... Sounds like a good idea

Well... I don't see the recently restored Elongated Man in there, but I still have to tip my hat to Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns and the rest of the DC guys for this brilliant decision.

The next incarnation of the DC Multiverse seems to be a mix of the New 52 (or the "DCnU") with the pre-Flashpoint multiverse but with some improvements:

  • Legacy characters like Ryan Choi or Jaime Reyes work with their predecessors instead of replacing them out of the blue.
  • The original Teen Titans generation of sidekicks is restored, with a place for Wally and Donna.
  • The golden age superheroes are back and World War II is part of their history again.
  • Romance is back. Aquaman and Mera, and Lois and Clark are couples again.
  • Love, hope and optimism is allowed again. 

Personally, I think it's an excellent change.

The time might seem odd, but if the grimdarkness of the New 52 was damaging the properties, it was smart to cut it before it does worse.

Some people believe DC to distinguish itself from Marvel, by being "the dark one", but it has only been that way in recent years. Traditionally, DC covers all sorts of genres an tones: comedy, romance, western, war, dark, etc. It became darker as it started imitating the tone of stories like Watchmen or Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, rarely with the same level of success outside its Vertigo imprint.

DC's superheroes were more optimistic than Marvel's during the silver and golden age. Usually more assertive and civic minded. Romance and couplehood isn't new to them either. Hawkman and Hawkgirl marry very soon in every incarnation, the Elongated Man was married by his third appearance, Aquaman married in 1964, followed by the Flash and the Atom.

The Rebirth Universe sounds great. So, let's see where it goes.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 —Una carta de amor de Johns a la esperanza, el optimismo y el legado

Ya se publicó el primer número del DC Universe: Rebirth, y todo el mundo parece estar enamorado de él.

Rebirth es otra revisión a la continuidad del Universo DC. Es impulsada por la nostalgia, y amenaza con cometerle sacrilegio a la obra maestra y sacrosanta de Alan Moore... Pero con suficiente razón, fue bien recibido.
Rebirth en resumen.
El primer número, escrito por Geoff Johns, abre mostrando el mecanismo de un reloj que le pertenece al narrador. Es perfecto salvo por un solo engrane malo, que evita que el resto funcione. Al final,

—spoiler menor— 

se compone el engranaje. Esta metáfora es obvia: el Universo DC tiene un error (perdición, pecimismo y corte con el pasado), este primer capítulo promete arreglarlo, y empieza satisfaciendo una demanda de muchos fans. Esto es un posible presagio del final de Rebirth y de la forma en la que este cambiará el Universo DC.
Muérete de envidia, Miguel Ángel.
La continuidad que Rebirth critica se conoce como "Las Nuevas 52" o "el nuevo Universo DC" (DCnU, por sus siglas en inglés), fue creada en el 2011 tras la mini-serie Flashpoint. Como todas las continuidades anteriores, no se inició con los nuevos orígenes para cada personaje —estos vinieron después—, sino con nuevas historias que no dependen de un bagaje de años de continuidad. Resultó una eficiente introducción para muchos nuevos lectores, pero también un sacrificio de millones de páginas de la historia de DC.

Conforme fue revelado el pasado de "Las Nuevas 52" (o informalmente, el DCnU), lectores veteranos se enteraron de que muchos de sus personajes e historias favoritas nunca existieron. En las Nuevas 52 personajes como Wally West y Donna Troy no existen, las nuevas versiones de los personajes de la era dorada, como Jay Garrick o Alan Scott son demasiado diferentes y viven en una tierra paralela, el Martina Manhunter, el Hombre Elástico, y Zatanna nunca pertenecen a la Liga de la Justicia, Tim Drake apenas conoce a Batman, y así hay muchas situaciones. Además, todos los títulos perdieron la numeración que llevaban, algunos desde los años 30s. Para muchos lectores, el Nuevo 52 parecía ser negacionismo.
Una de las imágenes inaugurales de Las Nuevas 52.
Muchos fans también percibieron un exceso de violencia y pesimismo. Después de Flashpoint (2011, también por Geoff Johns), el primer número de Detective Comics muestra la cara del Joker arrancada, la primera Red Hood and the Outlaws muestra una Starfire sin recuerdos o amor por sus viejos amigos, el primer Batman muestra un psicópata versión de James Gordon Jr., y el primeros de Catwoman muestra una relación de Gatúblela con Batman meramente sexual sin emoción. Además, muchos matrimonios y relaciones de pareja (Luisa y Clark, Arthur y Mera, Ollie y Dinah, Dick y Kory) dejaron de existir.
Lo que está en juego en Rebirth.
Wally West narra la historia (esto no es spoiler, es claro desde las primeras páginas) y habla de toda la esperanza y el optimismo que se había perdido después de Flashpoint. No es que las cosas eran exactamente felices después de Crisis de Identidad (2004), pero la historia de DC todavía contaba. En Rebirth, la causa es recuperar el legado de DC.

Geoff Johns también hizo Crisis Infinita en 2005, que también se trata de la percepción de que el Universo DC es lugar oscuro y pesimista, solo que en esa historia el que quería devolver la esperanza y el optimismo, Superboy Prime, era el villano y una parodia de fanboys nostálgicos. En Flashpoint la nostalgia y el legado que se perciben y celebran como algo bueno, algo que los héroes quieren.

Claro, la identidad del villano de Rebirth es un meta-comentario sobre Watchmen (Alan Moore, 1986) y su influencia en los cómics de súperheroes. Esto deja interrogantes: ¿En verdad le echan la culpa del pesimismo y la violencia a Watchmen?¿mantendrán el punto de Watchmen intacto? ("entérese for el mismo baticanal, a la misma batihora"). Es demasiado pronto para pensar lo peor. Tratar con una franquicia tan respetada y sus personajes es una tarea compleja, veremos si Johns es capaz de manejarla.

Como un primer acto de la serie, ofrence adelantos de Ted Kord y Ray Palmer teniendo a Jaime Reyes y Ryan Choi como sus protegidos en lugar de sus remplazos, así como la promesa de regresar a los héroes de la era dorada y las relaciones amorosas. Eso es lo que está en juego en esta serie.

Como una historia Rebirth está bien. Como sucede usualmente en las historias de Johns hay mucho énfasis en los asuntos de padre e hijo, en lo que el narrador recuerda o completamente feliz o completamente trágico, o de como los chicos con el corazón en el lugar correcto superan a bullies estereotipados (en EEUU les llaman bullies de los "after school specials" de la TV).

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 no es una obra maestra Mooreana, sino un hit eficiente con muchas probadas y in esperado mensaje editorial de optimismo y esperanza. Finciona bien como una historia, pero excelente como una declaración de misión.
Esperanza, optimismo y legado.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 —Johns's love letter to hope, optimism, and legacy

The first issue of DC Universe: Rebirth is out, and everybody seems to be in love with it. It is yet another revision to the DC Universe continuity, it is driven by nostalgia, and it threatens to commit sacrilege to the most sacrosanct masterpiece of Alan Moore... But with good reason, it was well received.
Rebirth in a nutshell.
The issue, written by Geoff Johns, opens by showing a perfectly good watch clockwork with one bad gear preventing it from working. By the end,

—minor spoiler— 

the gear is fixed. This metaphor is a no-brainer: the DC Universe is all wrong. This first chapter promises to fix the DC Universe and starts by satisfying a demand of many long time fans; more hope and optimism. The metaphor works as a possible presage to the way this series will change the DC Universe.
The Renaissance of the DC Universe.
The narrator of Rebirth criticizes the continuity created in 2011, officially called the New 52 and created after the Flashpoint mini-series. Like all previous continuities, it didn't start with the new origins of each character —those came later—, but with new stories that didn't rely on a baggage of previous stories. It was an efficient introduction for many new readers, but a sacrifice of millions of pages of DC history.

As the past of this new "the New 52" continuity was revealed, long time readers learned that many of their favorite characters and storylines never happened. In the New 52 multiverse sidekicks like Wally West and Donna Troy don't exist, the new versions of the golden age characters like Jay Garrick or Alan Scott are way too different, the Martina Manhunter, the Elongated Man, and Zatanna never belong to the Justice League, Tim Drake barely knows Batman, and so on. Furthermore, all titles lost their numbering, even those that started it in the 1930s. For many readers, the New 52 seemed to be denialism.
One of the inaugural images of the New 52.
Another perceived problem was the excess of violence and pessimism. After Flashpoint (2011, also by Geoff Johns), the first issue of Detective Comics shows the face of the Joker peeled off, the first Red Hood and the Outlaws shows a Starfire with no memoríes or emotional attachment, the first Batman shows a psychopath version of James Gordon Jr. And along with that, many marriages and love relationships (Arthur and Mera, Lois and Clark, Ollie and Dinah) ceased to exist.
This is what is at stake in Rebirth.
Wally West narrates the story (no spoiler there) and he talks about all the hope and optimism that was lost after Flashpoint. Not that things were exactly happy after Identity Crisis (2004), but all the previous DC history was still there. In Rebirth, the cause is recovering DC's legacy.

Geoff Johns also did Infinite Crisis in 2005, which is also about the perception of the DC Universe as a pessimistic dark place, only that time the guy who wanted to restore hope and optimism, Superboy Prime, was the villain and a parody of nostalgic fanboys. In Flashpoint nostalgia and legacy is perceived and celebrated as a good thing, something that the heroes want.

The identity of the antagonist of the story, of course, is a meta-commentary on Watchmen (Alan Moore, 1986) and it's influence on comics. This raises many questions. Is the story actually blaming the pessimism on it? Will Rebirth keep the point of Watchmen? This seems like a cliffhanger of the 1966 Batman show ("Tune in tomorrow. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel, same Bat-peril") with Watchmen in Geoff's trap, but it's too soon to think negatively. Dealing with that franchise and its characters is a complex task, we will see if Johns is able to pull it in the upcoming issues.

 As a first act, it offers previews of Ted Kord and Ray Palmer having Jaime Reyes and Ryan Choi as their protegees instead of their replacements, as well as a promise to bring back the golden-agers, and love relationships. This is what is at stake for the rest of the series.

As a story it is fine. As it usually happens in Johns's stories there is a lot of emphasis on father-and-son issues, on the stuff that heroes remember as absolutely great or terribly tragic, and on how they have their hearts in the right place and they overcome after school special bullies.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 isn't a Moorean masterpiece, but an effective hit with lots of teasing and a long expected editorial message of optimism and hope. It works fine as a story but excellent as a mission statement.
Hope, optimism and legacy.

Friday, May 27, 2016

End of Secret Six

The fourth volume of Secret Six is over.

The series is lots of fun (if anything it, could have used two or three extra issues), and it made great contributions to the diversity of DC characters, but it's also noteworthy because of its contribution to Ralph and Sue Dibny as characters.

As its last cover shows, this incarnation of the Secret Six is about a family of quirky misfits brought together by a common enemy. In contrast, the previous incarnation of the Secret Six is a group of key players within the DC Universe supervillain community who refuse to join a syndicate of super-criminals called Secret Society of Supervillains.

In the first two issues of this series, we see Catman —a classic minor enemy of Batman and part of the previous incarnation of the Secret Six—  get captured and tortured along Big Shot, Porcelain, Black Alice, the Ventriloquist, and Strix. The five of them characters apparently created by Gail herself (one of them is soon revealed to be another classic character in disguise).

After their rough start, despite their shenanigans, Ralph Dibny keeps them together in a suburban house outside Gotham City, where they fight the Riddler, a Lovecraftian menace and the League of Assassins.

It would seem pretty odd to see the Elongated Man, a character usually associated with very straight and heroic people, with criminals and misfits, but we can guess that Gail was paying some tribute to the hardboiled roots of the characters. Ralph and Sue Dibny are famously based on Nick and Nora Charles, from The Thin Man.

Despite their wealth and happiness, Nick and Nora love to party and drink with all sorts of people from Nick's past as a private detective. They also take care and almost adopt the troubled Dorothy Wynant. All of this is very similar to the way Ralph and then Sue take care of Catman, Porcelain, the Ventriloquist, Strix, and especially Black Alice.

The Thin Man was originally a novel, but MGM made a film adaptation and several sequels out of it. The book and the scripts for the first two sequels were written by Dashiell Hammet, which might explain the way Gail portrayed Damon Wells as blue collar, hardboiled detective, and Sue appears to be a femme fatale at first. Of course, there are no sources to back this kind of similarities as something Gail intended, but they are still there.

Intended or not, the fun part about it is that Secret Six is the origin story of Ralph and Sue within the New 52 (some of that might remain as part of the upcoming "post-Rebirth" continuity), and Gail just gave them a backstory that pays tribute to their  hard-boiled roots.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Darwyn Cooke

The Universe wasn't big enough.

If there was a guy I've always wanted with a blank check to write DC characters however he wanted, that is Darwyn Cooke.

... Just imagine: Earth-D.

Well, there probably is one now. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The first Superheroines in comics

It is common to think the superhero genre is dominated by male protagonists, and it is. It has been that way since the beginning... although not as much as we think. A little googling and some listing can show us that there were a lot of golden age superheroines (or mystery women) and that they were as talented and independent as their male counterparts.

After reading a bit about Lady Luck, the theme picked my interest, and since the last month, I've been doing this list on my free time. It covers superheroines of the golden age of comic books (c. 1936 - 1953) and provides basic info on each character (publishers, first appearance, general premise), as well as some comments I make about their innovations, influences, originality, fashion sense, impact, and influence.

This is a really long post and I don't expect anybody to read the whole thing. However, it has many sections about different characters, so it's a "pick your favorite" sort of situation. The advantage is that having all of it in one post allows us to compare and see the relevance of each character.

Good girl art, superheroines, censorship, and feminism

By comparing superheroines with their male counterparts, we can get an idea of their equality. It's clear that publishers were just cashing on the "good girl art" (drawn pin-ups with a focus on their "headlighs" and other female parts —the term was coined later by David T. Alexander), which resulted from making female versions of popular male superheroes, without realizing the positive implications for equality and feminism. They were creating fictional women who were not only equal to regular men but epic superhumans, such as Tarzan, Buck Rogers, The Shadow, The Phantom or Superman.

A little context is necessary. The golden age of comic books coincided with the Hays Code, which moderated the amount of violence or sex (or even cleavage) movies could show, and was enforced from 1934 to the late 1950s. Since pulps and comics were largely uncensored back then, they became the biggest outlet for that kind of content. And the fastest way for publishers to serve it was drawing women in Tarzan or Flash Gordon mini-costumes beating thugs.
I think this image is making a commentary about its readers.
One could certainly argue that such representations objectified women —titillating male readers and indulging their escapism, and they certainly do all of that—, but they also made them look like their counterparts: admirable men in even fewer clothes. If Sheena, Mysta or Namora wear skimpy clothes, Tarzan, Flash Gordon or Namor wear even skimpier ones, and the six of them have skills beyond normal men. This is the rationale that made feminist Gloria Steinem ask DC Comics to bring back Wonder Woman's star-spangled bottom.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Elongated Man is finally back!

... In the yellow costume —for some reason—, but he is back!

As lame as this picture is, I'm glad to see him for the first time as part of the new continuity.

Ralph and Sue Dibny finally return to their regular selves in the pages of Secret Six #12. Almost five years after the current continuity started, this is the first formal appearance of Ralph in full costume, and he seems to be back in business.

The new uniform is weird, though. It was a tough call since there was no perfect uniform, though. Telling from what fans share in their pages, I think there seems to be some sort of untold consensus that purple is the color and the uniform from Justice League Unlimited are the best fit —even if Ralph barely made three cameos in the entire series.

Ralph has only worn yellow a couple of times: the first the classic red uniform colored yellow in Detective Comics # 357, 1966, and the second, in Gotham Knights #41, 2003, is different from all the other uniforms.

The big 'E' and the design of the uniform seems to be inspired by the uniform Ralph wears guring second half of his time with the Justice League Europe (the half almost nobody remembers, though).

It is a bit weird that it took so long for Ralph to ditch the Damon "Big Shot" Wells persona. During the last arc, the rest of the Secret Six knew his secret but he kept doing the accent and the mannerisms. Maybe I missed the reason, or maybe it will be explained.

Anyway, the important thing is that Ralph is fully back. So, let's just hope he won't do that silly stairs walk all the time. To be fair, after the Infantino days, his stretching became weirder and less functional.

Also, Sue is a light brunette. I'm not big on that, but then again, she's back, and that's good enough*.

*Yes, I'm aware that she is likely a mole, but we all know how things go. She'll eventually return to her regular self. Hopefully, with black hair**.

**UPDATE: In a comment, I asked Gail Simone if Sue was a brainwashed mole... and she said that she is just her regular self! So, this is it! The Dibnys are back, and they are in the great hands of a talented writer, leading some lovely misfits into the right path —just like Nick and Nora did in The Thin Man with Dorothy Wynant.