19 October 2012

on zeroes & comparisons

Second post inspired by DC's recent "Zero Month" -

To some degree an event like "Zero Month" starts with several strikes against it, at least IMO.  I ended up reading about 18-20 of the #0 issues, and frankly it was a little tedious.  Origin stories are cool, but reading 18-20 of them in a relatively short timeframe is a bit of a slog.  By about the 4th or 5th one, it started to get repetitive, and I wasn't sure if that was due to the quality of the specific issues I was reading, or just because it was one origin right after another.  Sadly, I am old enough to have very clear memories of DC's previous "Zero Month" back in 1994.  At the time I was a broke college student, and I read about 10-12 of the offerings that time around.  I recall that being a little tedious as well, even though quite a few of those stories were less about origins than "new beginnings" i.e. new teams coming together and whatnot.  My similar experiences on each occasion lead me to conclude that there's something inherent about the concept that turns me off, though perhaps DC just fumbled the ball twice, and a really good Zero Month would leave me feeling differently.

The second issue that pops up is that, whenever they re-tell all these origins, they're going to change stuff from the previous versions.  They kind of HAVE to - if you're not going to change anything, why bother, no?  So inevitably they're going to tweak some stuff - some minor details, and perhaps some larger ones - and someone will be up in arms about the changes.  And of course some of the changes will be stupid, because some percentage of anything will be stupid, so there's that.  It's a concept that's just about guaranteed to bring out peoples' inner Anal Retentive.

So with that said, I found the Zeroes as a group to be, at best, a mixed bag.  Some were better than others.  I actually ended up skipping a few of the series that I normally read, which probably was not the outcome DC was seeking.  There were very few I found eye-gougingly bad, but several that committed the (at times more serious) offense of being dull.

The highlights:  Nightwing #0 (Tom Defalco/ Kyle Higgins/ Eddy Barrows) was fun.  Dick Grayson's origin gets revised a bit each time it's told, in large part because the original version has aged so poorly.  The creators here keep what's essential about the story (circus performers, Zucco, etc.) but have tweaked the details to make Dick a bit older and to minimize the creepy "Batman is a reckless child endangerer" aspect.  I'll fess up, too - I just really loved seeing Dick as Robin again.  I dig all 4 of the Robins but if it were up to me, Dick would never have been removed from the red and green.

Action #0 (Grant Morrison/ Ben Oliver) was my favorite issue of Morrison's run thus far.  Really enjoyed the imagery of Superman's cape literally becoming a protective device.  This managed to tickle all the "Superman as inspiration" twine without giving us yet another boring story where everyone goes on and on about how inspirational Superman is.  Show, don't tell.  Well done.

I like the idea of making Black Canary a little less decorated, and enjoyed the new twist on the origin of her name in Birds of Prey #0.  Batman #0 was a good one, too, though I question the wisdom of starting a story and then leaving it hanging until 2013.  There was one other that I adored, but I'll talk about that one more next time.

The lowlights:  Team 7 #0 (Justin Jordan/ Jesus Merino) was saddled with the unfortunate task of being both a #0 and a #1 issue, and collapsed under its own weight.  Jordan took the approach of trying to get a large cast of characters into the issue, but by the end I cared about exactly zero of them, even the ones (like Black Canary) that I already liked.  Nothing in the book motivated me to get the next issue.

I really really wish Nicola Scott could have drawn Earth 2 #0.  Scott Lobdell did a nice job with the lead story in Red Hood & The Outlaws #0, but the back-up story featuring the Joker was a strange, contrived twist.  Wonder Woman #0 had lovely lovely Cliff Chiang art and a unique "hook" (throwback storytelling), but that same hook made it difficult to engage with the issue - there's a reason exposition-filled storytelling went out of vogue.

Overall - eh - I could do without any more origin issues for awhile.  To me the whole point of the New 52 (aside from juicing sales) was to get away from the rampant continuity pr0n that dominated DC's output for about 5-7 years prior to Flashpoint.  A whole month of origin stories seemed like an excuse to relapse in a big way, and at times that's exactly what happened.  Time to move on to the next thing.


superfriend said...

i really enjoyed Action and Batman Inc. thought those were excellent.

Legion of Super-Heroes was enjoyable and fed the larger plot regarding the Fatal Five regrouping.

anything else i read isn't worth mentioning.

Marc said...

Based on your analysis of the Zero issues, there might be parallels to draw between the New 52 and Marvel's Ultimate universe. Both were ostensibly created to draw in new readers by sweeping prior continuity to the side, and both were successful at doing that in the beginning.

Ten years later, though, the Ultimate universe has become bogged down in its OWN continuity, and I sometimes wonder if it only still exists as a vehicle for Marvel to grab headlines without actually having to change anything "for real." I also wonder if the New 52 hasn't already backed itself into the same corner, continuity-wise, but at an even faster rate than the Ultimate universe. It's already to the point that we need reading orders and timelines to piece together the New 52, and it's been around for barely over a year. I think moves like a continuity-heavy Zero Month are enough to warrant the question: what steps is DC really taking to prevent the same kind of mess the New 52 was supposed to "clean up" in the first place?

matches said...

The problem with the Ultimate Universe was that is was never intended to be a universe at all. When Jemas conceived the line he just wanted accessible versions of Spider-Man and the X-Men. The notion wasn't necessarily that the books would have no continuity or ongoing storylines - just that they would present recognizable, understandable versions of the characters. That's not to say that Spidey and the X-Men didn't live in the same "world" - just that their adventures were unlikely to overlap.

The point where they started to emphasize shared universe continuity is IMO the point it started to head downhill. The Ultimatum story took the whole line off in its own direction that was totally unrecognizable, and from then on the mandate seemed to be to make it as different as possible from the regular Marvel U.

Interestingly, other than Miles being Spidey, I think they're starting to bring it back around a bit. The line-wide continuity is still very much in place though.