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.
video

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.