All Change at DC – 6 Titles Cancelled, 6 Titles Launched.

It seems like only a few weeks ago that DC relaunched their entire line of super hero comics and introduced us to the New 52. Today however the company announced that it was going to be shaking things up by cancelling 6 of its lower selling books and replacing them with brand new titles. These cancellations are not exactly big news as DC have been very open about how the New 52 is partly about throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. What is perhaps more surprising is that the company is allowing the doomed titles to run to 8 issues rather than cutting them off around issue 4 or 6 as seems to be the trend as of late. Obviously, if you’re a fan of one of the cancelled books then this is going to be cold comfort but in today’s ruthless publishing world, 8 issues is a pretty good run.

So who are the casualties? Men of War, Mister TerrificO.M.A.C.Hawk and DoveBlackhawks and Static Shock will all be closing up shop in a few months time. Not surprisingly they’re all minor character books whose sales have never really been able to keep pace with their bigger cousins. The cancellations will see the departure of several creators including recently returned 90s star, Rob Liefeld.  DC editor-in-chief Bob Harras however has promised that some of the characters will live on in other books, “These characters’ stories will continue. It’s all part of that world building we’re very keen on here.”

In the place of the now defunct titles, 6 new books will be making their debut. The biggest bit of news on that front is that Grant Morrison will return to the Bat universe with the relaunch of he and Chris Burnham’s Batman Incorporated series. The Justice Society will finally get their own New 52 book in the shape of James Robinson and Nicola Scott’s Earth 2 and there will be more golden age action in the form of World’s Finest, a book about Power Girl and Huntress.

On the more obscure end of the scale we have G.I. Combat which appears to be some kind of war story anthology (perhaps an odd choice given the cancellation of DC’s two existing war comics) and Dial H, the debut comic from novelist China Miéville, which promises to blend super heroics with horror and science fiction.

Finally we have The Ravagers by Howard Mackie & Ian Churchill. It’s being described as a spin off from Scott Lobdell’s Superboy and Teen Titans and is apparently about 4 teen super heroes on the run from a shady organisation.

So where does that leave you, dear Bunkerites? Have you lost any of your favourite titles? Are you excited about the new additions? My pull list has thankfully avoided the chop for now (I had been rather worried about Resurrection Man’s chances but the guy dies every issue has ironically survived this time). Let us know your thoughts.

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Practitioners 46: Jim Lee

Jim Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea on August 11, 1964 and emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of four, growing up in St Louis Missouri. In Lee’s St. Louis Country Day School his classmates predicted he would found hi sown comic book company. Despite this, Lee seemed resigned to following in his father’s profession of medicine, studying psychology at Princeton University, with the intention of becoming a medical doctor. However, medicine’s loss was certainly going to be popular culture’s gain as Lee became one of the most influential and well known artists on the biggest selling comic book of all time. One that founded movie franchises and supported an ailing Marvel in the late ’90s and found some of the most famous comic companies in the world to rival it.

Lee’s rise to fame with Marvel Comics was inevitable as it was undeniable. In 1986, as Lee was preparing to graduate from his psychology degree, Lee took an art class that reignited his fascination with art at a time when seminal work such as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen was reinvigorating the American comic book industry. With the psychology degree complete, Lee did something, with the reluctant blessing of his parents, that shows incredible courage and clarity of mind and self belief. He postponed his medical degree. The rest is without a doubt comic book history. He vowed he would return if he failed to break the comic book industry. Not something that should’ve worried him.

Submitting examples to various publishers, Lee did not see success until a New York comic book convention where he met Archie Goodwin, comic book editor (regularly cited as the ‘best loved comic book editor… ever), artist and writer who introduced him to Marvel Comics. Now it seems hard to believe that Lee was not snapped up immediately by the first commissioning editor to spot him but Lee exposes the nature of the industry. Retrospectively, artists are professional, passionate and confident in the style they work in and seem undeniable masters of their art but even the most capable artist can be subject to the pressures, misunderstandings, bad luck and bad timing of the industry. Lee began on Alpha Flight and moved over to Punisher: War Journal, his work there inspired by Frank Miller, David Ross, Kevin Nowlan and Whilce Portacio, as well as Japanese Manga.

Then came the crossing of two similar talents, one more senior than the other as Lee filled in for regular illustrator, Marc Silvestri on Uncanny X-Men 248, which was, due to positive response and Marvel’s own enthusiasm for Lee’s style followed up on issues 256 through to 258 as part of the ‘Acts of Vengeance’. The timing of this was key as X-Men, under Claremont was not only ground breaking and beautifully written at the time, it was on a meteoric rise in terms of popularity, beginning to challenge the more mainstream titles of Spider-man, Fantastic Four and Avengers. Eventually, Lee became Uncanny’s full time penciller, working for the first time with inker, Scott Williams, who would become his long time collaborator. To cement his position as an X-men innovator, Lee co-created the smooth talking mutant thief Gambit, with Chris Claremont. Lee’s popularity crystallised in these months, becoming more and more representative of what fan’s wanted. He gained increasingly greater control of the franchise and in 1991, Lee helped launch the second X-Men series, X-Men (Volume 2). He did so, not just as artist but as co-writer alongside Chris Claremont, giving the book a more broad and cutting edge feel to it’s perhaps more thoughtful predecessor. X-Men 1 was raw edged, fun comic book pinned with the wisdom and knowledge of an older and more restrained writer. Lee pushed Claremont’s boundaries while Claremont restrained the more inexperienced artist to just the right degree. The result was comic book history and rightfully so. However, Lee redesigned costumes, entirely successfully for Cyclops, Jean Grey, Rogue, Psylocke and Storm as well as creating villain Russian Super Soldier Omega Red.

X-Men 1 (Vol 2) remains the best selling comic book of all time with sales of 8.1 million (and nearly £7 million). This was confirmed in a public declaration by the Guinness Book of Records at the 2010 San Diego Comic con. While one aspect of it’s success was that it was released with five different variant covers as well as a limited edition gatefold edition that revealed it all in its glory, the success was thanks to Lee’s distinctive, modern take on a fan favourite and the development of the X-Men in an exciting new direction. The variant cover trick became a weight around collector’s necks in years following with Gold and Silver foil, holograms and gatefolds every few months for some titles, but this first incarnation was about piecing together a piece of art, mass produced and available to anyone who wanted it. Only Jim Lee and perhaps one or two other legends of the industry could’ve commanded such a response.

The success of X-men saw Lee hungering even more for greater creative control over his own work, and as soon as in 1992, Lee accepted an invitation to join six other artists (Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio, Rob Liefeld) who broke away from Marvel Comics to start Image Comics, which would release their own creator-owned titles. Lee’s batch of titles included Wild C.A.T.s, which Lee pencilled and co-wrote, and other series created in the same universe, including Stormwatch, Deathblow and arguably the more successful Gen13.

Lee and his close friend, Valiant Comics publisher Steve Massarsky, arranged a Valiant / Image crossover, Lee’s characters being used, alongside those of Rob Liefeild. Four central titles would exist – two from each company – in single edition format, each edition known as a colour rather than a number, plus a prologue and epilogue book. Wildstorm produced Deathmate Black, with Lee himself contributing to the writing, illustrating the covers of that book, as well as contributing to the prologue’s interior links. The assignment was given to Valiant creators against their better judgment, in particular Editor-in-chief Bob Layton, who complained about Image’s inability to meet their deadlines. Deathmate Black came out a few months after Valiant’s Blue and Yellow installments, which had come out on time, and Liefeld’s Deathmate Red was so late that Layton flew to California to procure that chapter personally, and ink it himself in an Anaheim hotel room. Layton see’s Deathmate’s lateness as one of Valiant’s ‘unmitigated disasters’ and views that project as the beginning of the spectacular collapse of the 1990s for the comic book industry. A collpase that would pull in Marvel and a collapse that comics has not, if ever, recovered from.

Wildstorm continued on, expanding it’s line to include other ongoing titles. As publisher, Lee later expanded this by creating two separate imprints for Wildstorm, Cliffhanger and Homage (to be replaced again years later to reform as a single Wildstorm Imprint, now owned by DC).

Moving back, with Rob Liefeld, to Marvel for the Heroes Reborn alternate universe storyline of the mid-late nineties, Lee was given the opportunity to plot the new Iron Man and wrote and illustrated The Fantastic Four. Both used existing storyarcs and developed them, bringing them more up to date. The innovations on these titles, however, were arguably greater than the more successful Ultimate Universe that has existed since as an Imprint of Marvel, though that is more subject to greater popularity of the industry as well as greater sophistication in art and writing in modern comic books.

Lee returned to Wildstorm, where he would publish series such as The Authority and Planetary, as well as Alan Moore’s imprint, America’s Best Comics. Lee himself wrote and illustrated a 12-issue series called Divine Right: The Adventures of Max Faraday, in which an internet slacker inadvertently manages to download the secrets of the universe, and is thrown into a wild fantasy world.

Sourced from HERE Check out the gallery there for more awesome images. Thanks to Alexandre Bihn for the awesome scan.

In a typically astute and decisive choice, Lee sold Wildstorm to DC in 1998 because he felt that his role as publisher was interfering with his role as an artist. In an echo of the choice made many years previously, he put his calling first. In 2003, Lee collborated with Jeph Loeb for a 12 issue Batman run. Introducing a new nemesis from Batman’s past, ‘Hush’ was a tightly packed and neatly executed trip through the Bat universe. Lee’s images were sumptuous, his design work intricate, emotive and innovative. Lee, the artist, through all the pitfalls and difficulties of publishing had lost none of the values and passion he had when working on X-Men 1 more than 12 years before. He followed this up with ‘For Tomorrow’ a 12-issue story in Superman by 100 Bullets writer (and Bunker firm favourite) Brian Azzarelo, although this didn’t achieve the same level of success, Lee’s work showed a maturity and stillness that perhaps wasn’t visible in his earlier career. In 2005, Lee collaborated with Frank Miller on All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, a series plagued by delays. Lee’s work was spotless throughout, in particular a redesign of the batmobile and a gatefold image that folded out from the book itself that revealed the full scale of this Elseworld Batcave. While Lee’s contribution was near infallible, Miller’s writing was unsophisticated and cynical in most ways and alienated a great many readers. During this period, Lee returned to WildC.A.T.S with Grant Morrison. The gap between All-Star Batman and Robin 4 and 5 was one year and to date, only 1 issue of WildC.A.T.S (Vol 4 has been published. During thsi time, Lee also drew covers for the Infinite Crisis series.

Lee was named Executive Creative Director for DC Universe Online MMORPG. This was released in 2009, with Lee responsible for concept art for the project.

Lee’s meteoric rise did not falter there, as he has now taken a position alongside Dan Didio as Co-publisher of DC Comics. Despite obvious concerns, Lee maintains that this will in no way effect his capacity as a creative. He cited two projects, Dark Knight: Boy Wonder – a follow up of the Frank Miller series he had worked on and also a painted cover for Giuseppe Camuncoli’s layouts in Batman: Europa 1. Neither projects have surfaced yet. The Wildstorm imprint was officially declared ended by DC in September 2010.

With DC’s enormous revamp of it’s entire line, A-List artists were brought to the forefront to work on the most prominent titles. With a Justice League movie in discussion /pre-production at present DC was always going to put JL first in their choices of creative teams. The illustrious team of Jim Lee as penciller and Geoff Johns as writer is certainly, still, a cocktail that no true fan of the artform can ignore. If anything that is Lee’s great talent. Enduring popularity. His art work remains so fresh and clear, and so respresentative of what people want from their books – in spite of changes in the industry itself – that Lee has proven himself a Practitioner who has wandered away from the thing he is most beloved for, but like a much younger, more south east asian Peter Cook, retains a place in every fan who ever saw his work. This is testament to Lee’s enormous talent. His offers to put out projects reveals a conflict of interests that has taken him away perhaps too much in the last two decades, however he is a brave artist who pursued greater goals. Without finding ourself in the same situation who are we to say we wouldn’t pursue those same goals…. however Lee’s example is certainly a cautionary one. Swathes of exceptional artwork, pages and pages of classic comic work haven’t seen the light of day. From the top down the industry runs on one thing – putting out the best books possible. While we can never undermine someone’s right to do whatever they want – what would we have given to see more Lee?

Is the DC Relaunch Sexist?

You’d have to have been hiding under a boob shaped rock to have missed the controversy swirling around two of the DC “new 52” books in recent weeks. It all kicked off with the release of Catwoman #1 which opened with a montage of shots of the title character’s breasts and finished with a slightly BDSM inflected sex scene between Selina and Batman. Not long after that a similar salvo was fired at Red Hood & The Outlaws #1 over its portrayal of Starfire as an emotionless, amnesiac, sex addict. The whole saga culminated with a post on Michele Lee’s blog entitled “A 7 Year Old Responds to DC Comics’ Sexed Up Reboot of Starfire.” In which the author’s young daughter explained how DC had spoiled her role model. The blog spread like Reboot Flavour Starfire’s legs throughout twitter and soon every site seemed to be talking about it. But how much of the criticism is justified?

Let’s start by taking a look at Catwoman as that’s where the troubles first appeared. There’s no denying that Catwoman #1 is about as cheesecakey as a mainstream comic gets. Artist Guillem March appears in many cases to have ignored the script in favour of simply cramming in as many butt and boob shots as humanly possible. The decision to not even show the main character’s face (but instead introduce her via an image of her breasts) is particularly troubling as it serves no narrative purpose whatsoever other than to reduce the character to a faceless sex doll.

This clearly isn’t a very good depiction of women in comics, but let’s not start pretending that this is somehow a huge departure for the character. One only has to take a look at Adam Hughes’ covers to see that Catwoman has been far from the Virgin Mary for many years now. While the script of Catwoman #1 does portray Selina as something of a fickle sex chaser, it’s not nearly as bad as the art makes it seem. Not every character has to be a perfect role model and we should be careful not to shy away from that all the time. After all, we want to be Gail Simone, not Mary Whitehouse.

Overall however I think the art here does still damn the book overall. It’s cynical, frankly kinda creepy. Catwoman #1 feels like it was drawn from the back of a shabby van via a pair of binoculars. The real crime here is that it’s not even particularly sexy. For all their cleavage, Hughes’ covers did have a touch of the genuinely erotic about them. Not so with this book. By half way through we’ve seen so much T&A that the image of Batman penetrating Catwoman on the final page feels like two souless porn stars going through the motions to pay their bills. In many ways to call it sexist and imply that it is somehow an assault on female self image is to give it too much credit.

So what about Starfire? Well, I think the issue is a little more hazy here, or at least I did for a while. The basic problem that a lot of people are having is that Starfire, a character who has existed since the 1980s and is supposed to draw her powers from pure emotion, is now portrayed as a mindless sex robot who will bang pretty much anything because you know…she’s an alien. This is made worse by the fact that her team mates, Jason Todd and Arsenal,  appear to be basically using her as a sex toy and high fiving about it behind her back.

I’ll start off by saying that I have almost no prior experience with Starfire as a character and so I went into Outlaws willing to take her as a totally new idea. To begin with I actually thought (shameless bikini scene aside) that we may be looking at quite an interesting idea. To my mind Jason Todd and Arsenal were meant to be seen as a pair of adolescent morons who were playing around with an alien they didn’t really understand. To me, Starfire’s advances weren’t meant to be sexy but rather to be creepy and alien. Here is this character who could fry both her team mates with a thought and who has almost no sense of empathy whatsoever. I liked the idea that this was all going to blow up horribly in the frat boy heroes faces when they realised that their orange bed buddy had the same attitude towards killing that she did towards sex. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it (I am) but I was almost starting to see the whole thing as a cautionary tale about the dangers of careless sex.

Sadly, I have a feeling I’m pretty far off base with this analysis. In a direct response to the comments of their 7 year old critic, DC recently tweeted:

“We’ve heard what’s being said about Starfire today and we appreciate the dialogue on this topic.
We encourage people to pay attention to the ratings when picking out any books to read themselves or for their children.”

That’s the response. Not “wait and see, we’ve got plans!” But “well, don’t let your kids read it then.” To me, that’s not a great response. When it all comes down to it, Starfire IS a kids character. Her only mainstream exposure has been via the Teen Titans cartoon and so it’s a fair bet that the majority of her fans fall within the teen bracket. I’m not saying that Teenagers can’t cope with complex stories but DC’s response to the criticism doesn’t seem to imply that this is what we’re dealing with.

I’ll probably stick with Outlaws for another issue or two and see where it goes but at this stage I’m not confident. I hope that I’m proved wrong and the book turns into the interesting character analysis that it has the chance to be, but in all honesty, when you’re relaunching your books to appeal to younger readers and a 7 year old is picking legitimate holes in your handling of her favourite character, something’s gone badly wrong.

So is the DC relauch sexist? No, of course it isn’t. Two bad bananas are not enough to spoil the whole bunch. With books like Batgirl, Wonder Woman and Batwoman (to my mind the three best books of the relaunch) tearing up the shelves it’s unfair to say that DC doesn’t know how to handle female characters. Indeed, the very fact that Catwoman and Outlaws have drawn so much flack is partly because the other portrayals of woman characters have been so damn good.

Are Catwoman and Outlaws bad books? Probably. But in all honesty, when can you remember a time that bad female superhero books were in the minority and not simply the norm? DC has taken huge strides over the course of this relauch and we shouldn’t allow a couple of missteps to take away from that.

Go out, vote with your money and tell DC that they’ve almost got it right. Buy Batgirl, buy Batwoman, buy Wonder Woman and leave the cheesecake sitting on the shelf where it deserves to be. We’re in virgin territory here and it’s up to the fans to tell the publishers what we want. After all, we can’t let the 7 year olds fight all our battles can we?

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