mine:dc

Convergence: Everything Right and Wrong with the DCU

So today saw the release of the final issue of DC’s latest excuse to sell a mini-series and (potentially) reboot their universe, kinda-not-really. Being who I am, a guy who has thousands of people watching him review terrible comics on a weekly basis for almost SEVEN years now, plenty of people have been asking me for my opinion on it… well, that and Marvel’s own excuse to sell a mini-series and (potentially) reboot their universe, kinda-not-really-but-also-reusing-a-title-from-a-much-better-maxi-series-when-that-concept-was-pretty-novel – Secret Wars. I’ll give my thoughts on Secret Wars first: I’m not reading it. Well, except for the Deadpool tie-in, because it’s Deadpool and already its first issue was hilarious and homaged not only the original Secret Wars but also Contest of Champions, quite possibly the first series of its kind. I may read some of Secret Wars in the shop, but having read A-Force #1, I’m already turned off of that event since it seems like yet another story built around taking familiar characters and putting them in an unfamiliar setting, revising their backstories and relationships in the process. To that I say: meh, seen it, done it, bought the trade. If Spider-Man’s marriage is restored, great, but I doubt they’re going to bring up the Mephisto deal, which I have to keep reminding people is my problem with One More Day. My Amazing Spider-Man boycott remains unless they address the Mephisto deal and actively state “deal’s off.” You can renew your vows all you want, Spidey, but THAT is my issue with One More Day.

And already we’ve gotten off of the main point, which is Convergence, DC’s latest company-wide crossover event. I’ll give it points already over Secret Wars in that at least they went for an original title… albeit the same can’t be said for its interiors, but we’ll get to that. For those not following along, Convergence tells the story of Telos, a very powerful being who served an interdimensional version of Braniac. Braniac, having apparently gone through the DC Universe’s timestream itself, has become changed by all of the various times the universe has split apart, formed multiverses, come back together, reshapen, etc., etc., to the point where he decided to catalogue and salvage what he could of this multiverse, snatching away various cities from across each world (usually Gotham or Metropolis, though some exceptions are there, too). Telos, having lost contact with Braniac, decides that his master’s will is to have the cities battle it out. Whoever emerges victorious will become the sole universe in the multiverse.

Surprisingly this does not involve the New52 versions of any of these characters. No, in fact the New52 versions are sitting outside of this entire event, only entering into it about halfway… and only because the world they’re all on is emerging into their universe. They don’t even see what’s happening on the surface. The only exception to this is the New52 Booster Gold as well as the heroes of the “Earth-2” series that was ANOTHER parallel earth, basically retelling the story of the Justice Society but in a different sort of world (and sadly had kind of a crappy weekly series to show its ending).

Instead, the cities that fight each other (and I can’t believe I didn’t spot this until I looked at the Wikipedia page for the series) are made up of roughly four or five different time zones – characters from before Flashpoint, the event that launched the New52; characters from before the Zero Hour event from the mid-90s; characters from the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the tale that really started all of this multiverse shattering and rearranging, for better or worse; characters from BEFORE Crisis on Infinite Earths merged all universes into one; and then various Elseworlds and other dimensions we’ve seen before, like Gotham by Gaslight or the Batman: Vampire trilogy.

 So now that the series is over, what did I think of it? It was… okay. Trust me, I’ve read far worse event comics out there and the death toll is actually pretty low, claiming only the Earth-2 Batman, although honestly I was fine with that since it felt like he’s been on death’s door for a while, passing on his mantle to the Dick Grayson of Earth-2. However, I’ve already much BETTER event comics before. The big problem is that it feels like it doesn’t really know what it wants to be – a big, cosmic, “nothing will ever be the same again!” kind of story, or one with deep characterization and interpersonal conflicts that twist and shape how things develop. Halfway through the story, Telos is replaced as the main villain by Deimos, a villain from the “Warlord” comics that… well, I don’t know how popular or well-known it is. The advantage of an original creation like Telos is that there’s no baggage attached to them – no assumption that we know anything about them or their motives. I feel like Deimos’ involvement was supposed to carry more weight than it actually did, partially because I’ve never really read the Warlord stuff, so he might as well have been an original creation. Except neither is given all that much depth or true gravitas. Telos’ goals are misguided and detached emotionally, but we are TOLD that there’s more to him, some backstory before he became involved with Braniac… that we never learn in these pages, instead being saved for some spin-off book, I’m sure. Deimos is just a power-hungry sorcerer “mu-ha-ha-ing” as he takes control of the situation and is then defeated in the penultimate chapter.

 The story itself is also relying upon a lot of language and events only familiar to those who have lived through the various times the DC Universe has rebooted. Numerous references to “crises,” a few scattered references to the comics “Infinite Crisis,” “52,” “Zero Hour,” and etc. It’s not even like this is some grand culmination that all of those stories have (unintentionally) been building to, it’s just it relies upon nostalgic imagery to try to connect to those stories when it really does not. It’s just an event comic where a bunch of guys have to fight one villain, then another, and then everyone goes home. Supposedly the ENTIRETY of the multiverse has been restored, meaning any story anywhere can now be published, but who are we kidding? There was honestly nothing stopping them from doing that before. As long as they think it’ll make money, they’ll publish a book set anywhere, any time in their long history. Sure, there’s a “legitimacy” argument to be made, but the thing is that we’re not seeing ongoing stories being told about Pre-Flashpoint DCU, it’s still the New52 universe, with all of its headaches, dumb decisions, and inability to have stories set during the middle of the afternoon.

 But then there was the tie-ins. 40 comic series were published during this time - two-issue mini-series that told the story of these heroes battling other heroes and villains of other worlds. The fascinating thing about this event is that it’s one of those events where really it’s the tie-ins that shine, while the main story is rather lackluster. I did not read all of them, just the ones with stories that jumped out at me… but the ones I did read? Hoo boy, they illustrated a single concept that’s been lacking from the New52 almost entirely: they were superheroes ACTING LIKE SUPERHEROES.

 Many of the characters in these mini-series found themselves up against other heroes. They realized, of course, that they didn’t WANT to fight, preferring to team up, but knew what would happen if they didn’t play along… so they got clever whenever they could. They got smart. They got… well, EXCITING and glorious and most importantly they got FUN. They developed the characters more if it seemed like there were untold stories. They relived characterizations and plot elements long-thought gone, giving closure to these people.

 Here are just some scattered examples: Lian was restored to life, having died in the much-maligned “Cry for Justice” mini-series (which I have documented already on the site: http://atopthefourthwall.com/tag/cry-for-justice/ . While the way it happened was riddled with plot holes, it still gave Roy Harper the chance to be a hero again (as well as get to see Donna Troy again). The Ted Kord Blue Beetle got TWO chances to really shine – the first in Justice League International, where a battered JLI just barely manages to fight the heroes from Kingdom Come (albeit with a bit of mangled characterization – what the hell was the deal with Captain Marvel in that?) but showing their heroism even in the face of overwhelming odds. The second was in his Pre-Crisis form, wherein he teamed up with the original Question and Captain Atom and used his own brilliance as an inventor to fend off the Legion of Superheroes, before teaming up with them in a clever bit of work on his part. Back to the Titans, we got to see the New Teen Titans as they were during the Marv Wolfman years, but with some expanded characterization for poor Kole, the woman created to die in Crisis on Infinite Earths. We get some renewed shipping for Nightwing and Starfire, but most importantly all of their characterization is on point – the interpersonal conflicts yes, but also the love they have for each other and why those years are so greatly remembered. Speed Force brought back (IMHO) the greatest Flash of all – Wally West, but also with his two children, all of whom were lost thanks to Flashpoint and the higher-ups preferring Barry Allen for some reason. Not only does Wally team up with a more cartoony speedster just for funzies, but he fights off a much more murderous and warlike Wonder Woman from Flashpoint, as if criticizing creative choices to embrace the parts of the character that emphasize her warrior nature as opposed to her being the ambassador of peace. And ultimately it’s Wally’s love for his children that wins through. Nightwing/Oracle, while not my favorite of these minis, showed once more how great Barbara Gordon could be as Oracle… as well as just how much I miss Nightwing and his blue color scheme (or ANY color scheme, since now he’s super-secret-agent-grayson-or-whatever). Batgirl brought back not only Stephanie Brown (who, admittedly, was recently revived in the excellent Batman: Eternal weekly series as Spoiler once more), but Cassandra Cain, as the three fought to protect their own Gotham and Steph continually confronted her own self-doubt as a great protector… or even as a great Batgirl, but seeing it through to the end alongside her best friends. Shazam just had a fine old time with Captain Marvel fighting badguys from his rogues gallery alongside all of the goofiness of the Marvels, and World’s Finest Comics, despite being a title usually associated with Batman and Superman, actually tells the story of the last stand of the Seven Soldiers of Victory against the anti-matter Thunderers, meeting their end with bravery alongside a cartoonist who was documenting their heroism. 

HEROISM. That’s really the thing I see throughout this whole thing in the tie-ins, the important component that seems to be missing from the New52 (or whatever it’s being called) – just heroes ACTING like heroes. Saving the day, facing adversity, but ultimately coming out of it better. Darkness is fine, difficulty is fine… but if they don’t OVERCOME this stuff, why are we even bothering to read it? Those were the qualities that I loved so much about the DC Universe of old, the stuff that I found in such short supply when the New52 launched. Instead it’s interpersonal intrigue against secret organizations with vast conspiracies that I’m supposed to care about because of their threat… and yet feel so disconnected from genuine humanity that I can’t seem to care. Compelling characters with families that they fight for, loved ones that they’ll argue with but ultimately, yes, LOVE them and be all the stronger because of it. And superheroes in bright colors finding trust in one another and the belief that they WILL overcome the obstacles that the writers present them with.

 What makes these tie-in stories great wasn’t that it was seeing these characters again, but rather it was seeing them show off what MADE them great – that they were superheroes through and through, the thing that I see now in the Marvel cinematic universe (and in several Marvel comics that I’ve been picking up) that I DON’T see much of anymore in DC, be it in the comics OR their coming cinematic stuff. Nostalgia’s great… but telling great stories is better. Convergence… was not a great story. It was an okay story. It was the tie-ins that showed GREAT stories, the kind of stories that inspire me to share my love of comics with the world. I fear that the coming DCU stories next month will not take those lessons to heart, but hey, the thing about comics is that even if something sucks now, it doesn’t mean it will suck later. And there are always good comics out there that you should look for.

So there are my thoughts on Convergence. Take them or leave them as you will.

Things Googled this morning, listed in order of success:

  • Superman
  • Iron Man clipart
  • Spider-Man
  • Janet Van Dyne Wasp 
  • Wonder Woman
  • Miles Morales Spider-Man
  • Marvel Falcon
  • Hawkgirl
  • Green Lantern black 
  • Black superheroes
  • Black female superheroes
  • Black female superheroes that can fly 

Things I now want answers to:

  • Why don’t female superheroes wear clothes?
  • Why do comics suck at diversity?

I had a frustrating morning.