[3 October 2012]
PopMatters Comics Editor
“We’ll always bring you something new, each September”, the DC Comics editorial bulletin All Access promised just prior to the launch of Zero Month. And here, at the wrap of the event, it certainly seems that the new has infused this September, as it has last September. The New 52 was certainly a bold move. Teasers and freebie primers were readily available all summer long in 2011. But the build-up seemed move designed to hype the launch of the New 52 than to deal with the sociocultural ramifications. What the New 52 meant in essence was that we would never see issue #1027 of Detective, the August 2024 issue that would mark Batman’s 1,000th appearance as lead for the publication. What we would get instead is an affirmation of the power of ideas. These ideas launched a revolution in popculture, DC seemed to be saying, we’re ready to stand by them again.
With the launch of four new titles this month (Talon, Sword of Sorcery, Team 7 and Phantom Stranger), the idea of the new has itself seemed to have evolved. Now, DC seems focused on dedicating at least part of the New 52 to a kind of experimental space. Marquee characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Justice League will remain (but not without themselves changing, in-book as teasers point to), and in addition there’ll always be a playspace for invention and reinvention. This new wave of the New 52 runs the full gamut of the editorial high-concept. The Phantom Stranger and Amethyst are classical DC characters that are rebooted for the modern era. Team 7, title that bands together heroes and villains alike in the service of an off-the-books governmental direct-action squad, both reinvigorates the action-oriented style of 90s comics, and integrates these subgenre with the DC mainstream. A book like Talon has its roots entirely in the New 52, and speaks directly the possible future of DC’s continuity-wide reboot.
The writers appointed to the titles seem savvy choices as well. Co-publisher Dan DiDio helms Phantom Stranger, and reading even the Zero Issue clues you in the wide-angle lens with which DiDio approaches the management of the DC Universe. There’s politics and backstory galore to be found in The Phantom Stranger, and already now it seems like the joy in reading the book will be tied to an act of reading-archaeology. Layers and layers of time and history will be removed to understand both the classic Stranger, and the New 52 Stranger.
Talon, as discussed earlier, comes from established writer Scott Snyder fostering newcomer James Tynion IV by collaborating on the execution of the book. This not only expand the idea of the New 52, introducing secondary evolutions to come out of the existing characters, but also provides a template for growing creative talent.
To reintroduce Amethyst and Team 7 to modern readers, DC tapped Christy Marx and Justin Jordan respectively. Christy, currently the head-writer at virtual goods and social media gaming giant Zynga, was in many ways responsible for evolving our idea of a transmedia writer. She was lead writer on a wonderwall of classic ‘80s TV shows like Jem & the Holograms, GI Joe and many others, and the mind behind such classic videogames as Conquests of Camelot and Conquests of the Longbow. Justin witnessed firsthand and was inspired by the 90s revolution in comics. He entered the industry with a creator-owned limited series, and brings a strong sensibility of reintegration to marry together the classical 90s high-octane comics tradition, with the even more established DC Universe, and the New 52 post-reboot DC. Over a somewhat late NY lunch-hour, PopMatters speaks exclusively with both Christy and Justin. And in the space of just one minute, they both articulate grand-vision views of the New 52, of Zero Month, and their ongoing relevance to popculture.
The first thing you notice about Christy is her own exuberance. It’s hard not to feel the pull of this contagion of excitement, and it underlines that however important Amethyst might be to reboot as an intellectual property, it is also fun. Pure fun to read, and pure fun to write. “Well I had read the original Gemworld books when they first came out, but of course it was a long time ago, so my memories were vague,” Christy enthuses. “So the very first thing I did was just to sit down and to reread all of the original series. And I stuck with just the original ‘80s series. And I didn’t really follow-up with anything much later than that. So I kinda like what I consider the source. I then made a lot of notes, notated everything I thought was part of the essence of the book, the feel of the book. But at the same time I didn’t want to redo the same stories. I felt that they’d already done those stories, and I wanted to be able to update it and bring it into 2012 and make it something that’s a little bit more contemporary. Because the audience has changed. I think we need to admit that, because what we were reading and wearing and watching in the 80s is just not the same as what we’re doing now.”
Christy’s comments speak directly to one of the key trends of the New 52; the continuity-wide reboot’s power to contemporize classic characters and settings, and make these culturally accessible to new and longtime readers alike. For new readers, the challenge is discovering these characters and settings for the very first time. For longtime fans, the secret dread is that of diminishing returns—how long can a character or setting linger even after its vitality or perhaps (sadly) even relevance has passed. The New 52 is secret compact with readers that intellectual properties may perhaps never again linger. And this is itself a profound statement about the value of popculture, and the idea of continual, in-story renewal.
“No, I don’t think we have seen them interacting in the same book”, says Justin Jordan of characters Slade Wilson the fearsome DC villain and supernally capable assassin Deathstroke and roguishly competent spec ops operative Cole Cash, the Grifter. The interaction between classic ‘80s antihero Deathstroke and ‘90s-era antihero Grifter may well prove to be a top drawcard for Team 7, in that this interaction places post-Crisis DC in the same popculture context as characterization and storytelling from the creator-owned revolution of ‘90s-era comics. “And the differences between Slade and Cole, you will actually see a good bit of that as the issues go on, just because they’re fun characters to bounce off of each other. But Slade, at least for me, his primary motivation is his ego. He wants to prove he’s the best, he wants a challenge, he picks jobs and does things specifically because they’re difficult. Whereas Cole, in a real fundamental way, just wants to get the job done. And he will take the most efficient, quick route to getting things done. And he doesn’t really care whether or not that shows off his badass-ness or not. He just wants to get the job done so he can go back to doing what it is he wants to do.”
Justin speaks directly to another aspect of the New 52, one that is of a pedigree dating back almost as far as when Marv Wolfman helmed the Crisis on Infinite Earths megaevent which marked DC’s 50th anniversary, and one which has had a soft-open since the 52 maxiseries of 2007. How do the different characters and settings that within different subgenres in DC interact? The classic litmus test for this had always been the Justice League/Justice Society team-ups, but as the DC Universe grew more complex, more clearly defined conceptual groups. Present-day heroes like Flash and Green Lantern could communicate with older, Justice Society versions of themselves, but it seemed impossible to even imagine that Batman could have something to say to oldtimey lawmen like Scalphunter, even if some Deus-ex-machina plot mechanic thrust them together.
Justin’s work then places him the role of one of DC’s secret grand architects, not at all unlike Marv Wolfman or John Ostrander on a book like Legends or more recently James Robinson on a title like Starman which united present-day heroes with their Golden Age counterparts.
Full interviews with both Christy and Justin will run later this month.