• Everything But Imaginary #443: Repopulating a Universe

    Eight months ago, the entire DC Universe restarted itself. It wasn't exactly a square one relaunch, of course. Most of the icons are still pretty close to who they were before the universe-altering Flashpoint storyline, and those who changed the most (Superman and Wonder Woman) are still easily recognizable. Other, less known characters have experienced a much more dramatic remake – the excellent The Ray miniseries brought back the name of an old hero in a totally new character and context, for example. And while Stormwatch isn't totally changed from its old incarnation, it has new members and an altered attitude that is just as likely to snare a new reader as it is to put off those who read it before.

    The interesting thing to me, at least in terms of this column, is that virtually any character that we haven't encountered in the last eight months of comics is still theoretically available for a remake. Sure, we've got an awful lot of comics already (it adds up to 416 individual issues of the ongoings by the end of this month, plus a few assorted miniseries and one-shots), but you've got to remember that each title has eight issues of its own cast. Plus Batman stars in four of the books. And Superman in two. Even if you consider that each of the individual Green Lantern family titles features a totally different cast and that all of the team books include at least one character that doesn't anchor his own title or appear elsewhere, there are still hundreds – maybe thousands – of characters that haven't showed up yet, and could still be potentially revamped.

    Starting it July, it seems, DC is introducing a way to start bringing them back faster. DC is resurrecting an old Golden Age title, National Comics, to present a series of done-in-one stories featuring different creative teams bringing back what they call “dormant” characters. Functionally, it seems very similar to the already-existing DC Universe Presents, which features characters in arcs rather than one-off stories, but otherwise seems to serve the same purpose.

    Anthologies in general are a tough sell in today's comic book market. When, by its very nature, a series changes its characters, plot, focus and creative team every issue or five, it's hard to hold on to readers who are drawn into serialized stories with long-term consequences for the characters and for the larger, universe-wide narrative that defines the two major publishers. But I think anthologies still serve a vital function – several, in fact. Even if you look at it cynically, it exists as a way to renew trademarks on characters or concepts that may not be popular at the moment, but that the publisher would be reluctant to give up. (Marvel learned this to their chagrin a few years back when Heroic Publishing successfully wrested the trademark to Champions from them.)

    But there are more important reasons as well. First of all, the anthology does offer a legitimate opportunity to try out characters or concepts that show promise, but that may not inspire enough confidence to launch a new title without testing it out before an audience. DC has done this several times in the past, with the original Showcase and its various successors, the amusingly-entitled 1st Issue Special series in the 70s, and others. With this new series, DC has an opportunity to reintroduce a wealth of characters in a relatively brief period of time. The first four issues have already been announced as featuring Eternity (an updated version of the “I can bring back the dead” Kid Eternity), the multiple personality disorder vigilante called Rose and Thorn, former Outsiders member Looker, and a character called Madame X. (She appears to be the odd one out here – from the description it seems like she's an updated Madame Xanadu, but as she's currently appearing both in Demon Knights and in Justice League Dark, she doesn't quite fit the “dormant characters” mandate of the series.)

    Now hopefully, DC will take the opportunity not only to bring in old DCU characters, but some of those from their other libraries who haven't shown up since the merger. Sure, Kid Eternity started out as a Quality Comics character (the same publisher, interestingly, that originally used the title National Comics) but they've also got the old Fawcett and Charlton stables of characters to draw from. They've been pretty well enmeshed in the DCU since the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, but a lot of those characters haven't showed up at all yet. Phantom Lady? The Question? The Bulleteer? Heck, even perennial also-ran Plastic Man has only appeared in one panel of the relaunch so far.

    And how about all of the other characters that are now part of the DCU? The Milestone characters have been rather underrepresented. Let's use an issue of this new series to reintroduce Icon, Xombi, or the Blood Syndicate. The Wildstorm characters? Have we seen most of the W.I.L.D.Cats in the New 52? Or Majestic? And what about those former Vertigo characters who haven't reappeared? This would be a nice place to reintroduce the Dreaming (not Sandman himself, I think it'd be a mistake to try to re-do that without Neil Gaiman) or Black Orchid.

    Jeff Lemire, Cully HamnerThe other thing anthologies can be good for is testing out new creators. It's a lot easier to give out an untried writer or artist a single issue of a book than a miniseries or ongoing. DC has done this before – New Talent Showcase (one of the many books to incorporate that title) was built on that very concept. So with their “DC Writing Workshop” program that was announced last year, here's a way to try out those new writers. Or a way for artists who want to try their hand at writing to take on an issue or two before committing to something further. A place for an artist looking for work but who may have trouble handling a monthly, or even a miniseries. Or for the authors of mostly-unknown but usually well-regarded self-published eBooks featuring superheroes in a comedic context to take a shot at the big leagues. Y'know. For example. The first issue is going to be produced by Jeff Lemire and Cully Hamner – not exactly a team of unknowns – but that doesn't mean there wouldn't be a good chance to give up-and-comers a chance later.

    In short, I'm guardedly optimistic about this series. Historically speaking, I know it probably won't be a sales juggernaut and probably won't be around for the long haul. But I'm hoping it can at least serve as a launching pad for a few characters and concepts that deserve a real chance, get them enough exposure to take them elsewhere, and maybe give them a chance to shine.

    Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.