You know the drill: Worlds will live! Worlds will die! Lots of spin-offs! Marvel and DC Comics are pretty much doing the same universe-changing story in almost the same way at almost the same time. One of them is good. One of them isn’t.
Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo and I have both been reading chunks of the major publishing crossovers from Marvel and DC. There’s been elements that we’ve liked and some that have left us cold. Overall, we both feel like Marvel’s got the better offering and elaborate as to why that is in the chat below.
(Spoilers follow. Hover over the top left of each image and click on the magnifying glass icon to expand it.)
Evan Narcisse: These days, it seems like the big two superhero publishers are always doing one big crossover after another, designed to shake things up and keep readers engaged.
But what’s been different this event season is just how similar DC Comics’ just-ended Convergence and Marvel’s ongoing Secret Wars are to each other. I wondered about just closely they’d line up when they were both being hyped but now that they’re happening the resemblance is kind of uncanny.
Stephen Totilo: I figured out any easy way to spot the difference. The DC one is the one that’s bad.
Evan: Harsh but true. Convergence read like what it is: a stopgap fill-in while DC figures other, more important stuff out. It exists to cover for the company’s move out to California, for those who didn’t know.)
Stephen: One emerges from a company needed to move offices; the other from a writer (Jonathan Hickman) building a years-long story to a crescendo. Both are business moves in that all comics crossovers are designed to rope in new readers and compel existing ones to buy more books. They both trade on nostalgia, since the core concept, as you alluded to, is similar: they involve the creation of patchwork worlds full of districts that contain characters from this or that beloved classic Marvel or DC series. The thing is, I grew up reading DC. I read and loved many of DC’s older crossovers. And yet I’ve avoided much of Convergence and have disliked most of what I tried, because so much of it was drenched in DC’s dreary, uninspired approach to its own history. Whereas, I didn’t grow up reading Marvel, have no clue what Inferno is, have no soft spot for its 2099 timeline, didn’t read Infinity Gauntlet, and yet I’m trying and enjoying nearly all the Marvel Secret Wars stuff. Why? Because Marvel taps more interesting creators these days and seems to let those creators have more fun.
Evan: Yeah, the fact that DC’s higher-ups knew that Convergence was coming and somehow didn’t tease or build to it at all is pretty damning. Either you can’t get your creators to play ball or it’s just not that important as part of what you’re actually building towards.
Evan: I read almost all of the Convergence main series and tie-in books, and they largely seem like try-out or paycheck comics for their creative teams. The ones that had actual charm or worked—like the Atom, Shazam, Question, Nightwing/Oracle or Speed Force books—were anomalies.
The whole event feels even more insulting for leaning on cancelled or disavowed versions of characters that readers loved. “Here, buy comics with the Batgirls we know you liked but did away with anyway.”
Stephen: Being an editor-in-chief, I have a soft spot for editors. Being a comics reader, though, I mostly have disdain for modern super-hero comics that seem driven by editors. DC just spent two months printing books that used a bad formula that clearly from the top-down. They published 40 or so two-issues series, each of which just HAD to feature a battles between warring factions of different prior DC storylines (post-Crisis Justice League International vs. Wildcats or whatever). Each of these just had to begin with our heroes de-powered. Each just had to include the moment when the villain behind the patchwork world restored everyone’s powers and told them to fight. You should easily be able to sell me on a new, short series about the vintage JLI or Suicide Squad or post-Crisis Superman and yet… I just HAD to not buy the second half of any of those series. DC should treat more of its creators like Grant Morrison and let them be creative. Thank goodness there are signs of that in the preview books they’re putting out in advance of their June refresh. You are more encouraged by the previews, too, right?
Evan: Yes, I am, even though part of me feels like I should know better. I’m excited by what I’ve seen so far from the Batman and Superman books. I’m not so dumb as to think these won’t be the new canonical versions of the Dark Knight or the Man of Steel but I think some interesting tensions and situations could come from the changes.
The weirdest thing about the vague way that Convergence ended—with the apparent restoration of the old multiverse, and the existence of a new one—is that it seems to be opening a back door to the kind of thing DC was moving away from. When they did the New 52 reboot four years ago, everything lived on the same block, so to speak. Now they’re letting creators sketch out different neighborhoods, it seems.
Stephen: It’s never too late to admit you did something dumb. The New 52 reboot was dumb. They half-assed it, not making it a clear reboot, rushing it to market without seeming to have a coherent sense of their new universe’s history. Post-Crisis was sloppy, too, but Post-Crisis was better-paced with them not relaunching everything all at once. The Multiverse is a good concept. It’s fun. People like alternate Earths.
As for the preview books, I’m torn on Superman. Grouchy Superman seems like, well, not Superman! But I loved the post-Crisis Superman comics so much that I can’t tell if I have enough perspective to welcome varied interpretations of the character. Robot Batman seems silly, but, sure, why not. Take a chance. I was surprised about how much I cared about the Cyborg preview book and like the idea that he’s got mysterious parts of his cyborg body that he doesn’t know about. I also liked the Justice League United book that you highlighted earlier this week, since it seems to have a crazy, eclectic cast. We Are Robin is cool, too, because, hey, we’ve had boy Robin and girl Robin, but we’ve never had every-teenager-is-Robin before. More of that, DC. Go crazy!
Stephen: On the other hand… you’re pumped for Darkseid War, right? A new potential crossover looms. Oh joy.
Evan: I mean, it’d be naive to think that kind of continuity-riven orthodoxy will ever go away in cape comics. But I’m glad more divergent fare like Black Canary (which itself riffs on ideas seen in stuff like, say, Scott Pilgrim) gets to exist next to Darkseid War. So, while DC is expanding their multiverse, Marvel is contracting theirs. And that might be another reason that Secret Wars feels more interesting. There’s a sense of mystery about what the next version of the Marvel Universe will look like.
Stephen: And yet DC’s was the one called Convergence. So confusing!
The main Secret Wars book has been good, the crossovers a mixed bag not surprisingly. My favorite of this week is…. M.O.D.O.K. Assassin! It does a good job of literally telling you where things are. He’s in a place called Killville that is between a district run by mutant-killing Sentinels and a district based on the House of M mutant crossover. The two sides cross paths in Killville until M.O.D.O.K. intervenes. M.O.D.O.K., that giant head with spindly arms and legs who is a lunatic killer is the kind of ridiculous character that DC used to embrace more. (Thank goodness they’re beginning to appreciate and reintroduce Captain Carrot again).
Stephen: Maybe it’s helpful that I have next to no history with these characters. Like, I have no idea if the new Inferno is a proper homage to classic Inferno.
Evan: They kind of don’t need to be good homages, though. Because Marvel hasn’t cut off its history in chunks the way DC has, so the collective pangs for this old stuff aren’t quite so acute. That said, I like the Old Man Logan book this week, more than I did the original Mark Millar/Steve McNiven run that it’s named after.
Stephen: Does it even connect to the old one? I’m flying blind here, Evan! Tell me what I need to know.
Evan: It does, barely. Logan is still surrogate dad to the baby Hulk that was orphaned when he killed all the mean ol’ Hulks in that alternate timeline, so it seems to be a real follow-up.
Stephen: Oh, I thought that was all new!
Evan: (My memory is foggy. I’m sure some commenter will correct me!)
Evan: Part of what makes Secret Wars work is that it’s so different than what came before it. This whole Game-of-Thrones medieval court intrigue set-up is nothing like the Marvel Universe of a month ago. Guess Doom is a GRRM fan?
Stephen: Hey, if they want to homage the GoT show and have a controversial rape scene, too late. DC covered that in Identity Crisis.
Evan: Nova Flame-level burn, boss. Johnny Storm, remember him?
Stephen: No. I’ve forgotten who the Fantastic Four and X-Men are. Good job, Marvel!
Evan: Anyway, we already know that things will go back to a semblance of the previous iteration of the Marvel Universe, with some big changes. But what we’re getting in the meantime is enthusiastic work by the company’s top talent. Like, Brian Michael Bendis wrote Old Man Logan and it doesn’t feel phoned in a la so many Convergence tie-ins. Even the work from creators who aren’t household names—like on the Planet Hulk book—doesn’t feel throwaway.
Stephen: Yeah, the books do not feel phoned in.
Evan: The same story beats aren’t being recycled, thank God.
Stephen: Secret Wars 2099 was surprisingly interesting, though I’m not a Peter David guy. They’ve got a lady Captain America who doesn’t seem to know she’s Captain America when she’s not being Captain America. Weird! I’ll keep reading that.
Stephen: I am a bit annoyed, though, that this crossover interrupts a lot of what was being published and/or seemed to rush several good Marvel series to premature conclusions. I was enjoying Charles Soule’s Inhumans run. Waid’s Daredevil may be long in the tooth but now it feels like they are scrambling to wrap up. This crossover seemed to work into Hickman’s timing but not in many others’.
Evan: Agreed. The tie-ins give creators room to experiment wildly, which probably won’t be the case when this is all done. And you make a good point about non-event books. If you’re not into Secret Wars, you’re out of luck.
Stephen: Some of the non-event books seem protected. The surprisingly-good Howard the Duck and Squirrel Girl books (read the second Galactus issue, #4!) seem to have been unaffected. Dan Slott and Mike Allred’s superb run on Silver Surfer probably wasn’t going to last much longer with or without a crossover. Stepping back, though, I just have to say that I trust Marvel so much more than I do DC these days because Marvel now has several years of letting their creators do substantial distinct runs and a lot of great books to show for it. DC, which used to be the company that was more open to letting writers and artists be more expressive has felt straight-jacketed for a half-decade or more, even with the New 52. I hope they’ve finally found their inner Mister Miracle. They need it.
Evan: To me, some of those DC previews show glimmers of hope. Marvel’s teased a few revelations in a Free Comic Book Day Avengers story, but the bulk of their coming status quo changes remain mysteries. They don’t quite need the same level of hype as DC does, though. Hopefully, six months down the line, each publisher’s line-up will be filled with must-read stuff. It’d be a real Crisis if that doesn’t happen.