DC’s “New 52”: Off to a drowsing start

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Ordinarily, it’d take an act of Jesus to get me out and about after 11 p.m. on a Tuesday. I’d rather just stay home and catch up on all my favorite reality programs -- like Who Not to Wear, Step Away from the Dress and So You Think You Can Fist?

But when a publisher like DC Comics announces a midnight on-sale for two of its most important books of the year, I’m off like a shot. Back in the ’80s, I never camped out for Springsteen tickets, so I’m long overdue to do something totally stupid and futile on a weeknight.

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This week, we early-bird buyers got to usher in the highly controversial “relaunch” of the DC line, which basically consists of restarting a bunch of longstanding titles at issue # 1. The idea is to snare first-time readers by making these comics all appear “new” -- which is, of course, ridiculous on its face. (“By Jove, look at this curious periodical! Bat

MAN? Whatever could that entail?”) It is, however, a terrifically canny stratagem in the comics industry’s ongoing effort to minimize the contributions of its Golden and Silver Age artists, who have a bad habit of suing for back pay when they turn 80 and start to develop cataracts.

So it was that I stopped into my local comic shop at 12 last night (OK, smartass: 12 this morning) to pick up Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1, the two alleged cornerstones of DC’s bold new initiative. What I found there was a bunch of gamers who haunt the place weekly, and two staffers who exhibited the proper amusement as they handed me my comics. They were amused, in part, because another element of DC’s 2011 marketing push is make all of its titles available online simultaneously with the arrival of their printed counterparts in stores. That, of course, kinda blunts the urgency of a midnight in-store promotion, unless you really want to be the first person on your block to own a hard copy of something you could just download in a few hours over morning coffee. We also shared a chuckle at how ridiculous it was that I’d have to come back later in the day to pick up the Marvel books I read regularly, since that publisher hadn’t OKed any midnight sales of its own product. Who would it hurt? Well, Marvel apparently has spies everywhere, which must be why Disney likes them so much.

I was honestly eager to read the DC books as I ambled home: I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of this summer’s Flashpoint series, which is the latest in a long string of multi-title events the publisher uses to shake things up when its continuity gets too convoluted for even guys who live w1ith their mothers to follow. (Past examples have included Ultimate Crisis, Final Crisis and Let’s Crisis Again Like We Did Last Summer.) In Flashpoint, alterations in the timestream have turned some of the most noted DC heroes into nightmare images of themselves, which basically means they get to act like even bigger assholes than they usually do these days. Issue #5 was heralded as explaining which of these changes will be permanent, and thus how the DC universe will be “forever” altered -- neatly leading into Justice League #1, the first installment in that aforementioned drive to get comics into the hands of people who have grown bored with The Economist.

Both books, not coincidentally, were written by Geoff Johns, who had previously earned the industry’s deep respect when his Blackest Night series inspired many, many action figures. Long story short: He shouldn’t be writing his acceptance speech for next year’s Licensing Awards just yet. Both Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1 turned out to be two of the thinnest and most superfluous mainstream comics I’ve read in many a moon. I sincerely believe I could have written them myself in the time it took to walk to the store and back. (Points of reference: I suck at story, and I live two blocks away.)

The final Flashpoint is just hokey, talky melodrama, suffused with the kind of time-traveler soul-searching even Gene Roddenberry would be shying away from were he still alive. (“My God, what have I done? What might I have done, if not for the butterfly effect? And what will I do tomorrow, if I get an irate phone call from Harlan Ellison?”) As for the book being the “key” to the new DC cosmology -- well, I’ve read the thing twice, and the only transformation it clearly portends is cosmetic. The major heroes are all now sporting high collars and bodysuits with no trunks, which hints that in this iteration, everyone from Aquaman to Detective Chimp has one common tailor, and DADT never existed.

As for the new Justice League, it purports to rework the mighty super-team’s secret origin -- in the debut issue, by showing the first meeting of Batman and Green Lantern. When this story arc was in the works, DC apparently assumed the Lantern movie would have made that character a household name by now; instead, he remains merely one of the best-selling characters within a dying art form. Watch his role dwindle in upcoming issues, since DC’s current boardroom strategy doesn’t involve preaching to the already hopeless.

Speaking of hopeless, the interplay between Bats and GL is the crux of the book, but it largely amounts to the latter making fun of the former for lacking superpowers and talking in a funny voice. As Christopher Nolan might put it, “Um, no.” Memo to DC: No one you’re attempting to lure away from McSweeney’s will find this cute or reflexive. Although I do appreciate how you’re going for broke with the next issue, which will pit Batman vs. Superman. That’s a sure way to announce that you’re no longer interested in catering to anyone who’s ever picked up a comic in his life.

So this “new DC” can already be pronounced a total bust, right? Heck no, techno! Just a week from now, the brilliant writer Grant Morrison will favor us with something he’s calling “Action Comics.” And I personally can’t wait. In this one, see, Superman wears blue jeans, workboots and a short-sleeved shirt. Talk about camping out for Springsteen, in every sense of the term.

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