Wednesday, May 4, 2011

DP09-AB Giffen Period update

.....[Both this post and the previous one were saved for editing and needed to be altered prior to posting. That explains, if not necessarily excuses, the gap between their stated dates and their eventual publication. Since this blog usually deals with the past and is meant to be a record to be referenced for some time to come I don't generally worry about those gaps. In this case the prior post was delayed because three weeks ago I came close to losing an eye. Don't panic; the damage has nearly reversed and I will have stopped needing medication soon. But until recently it meant that I would have to limit my time in front of the screen to reading (and briefly commenting) e-mails, other blogs et al to keep myself current. If you've seen the previous post, I don't have to explain why proof-reading and fact-checking it was out of the question. Until I've fully recovered (very soon now) I'll be keeping myself to conversational essays like the one below which really only require a read-though for grammar and spelling, or recording existing playlists such as the recent Hüsker Dü post on one of my music blogs.]

.....Yesterday the last issue of Keith Giffen's run on the Doom Patrol shipped on schedule. That doesn't necessarily mean that the Giffen period is over, per se. While it is true that this had been the third series in ten years, each failing to exceed the two year mark, this blog has already identified extraneous guest appearances in other periods published immediately before or after the nominal series proper. I'm holding off identifying a specific cut-off for this period just yet, but need to acknowledge the cut-off of the series.

.....An excellent statement about the use and significance of death in the Doom Patrol franchise can be found at the Histories Of Things To Come blog. The post is part of a larger, open-ended series on the permanence (or impermanence) of death in comics. Here's a shortcut:

.....Now, as to the future of the group? There's no word yet that I've heard, but it may turn out that their last ten years has been a dress rehearsal of sorts for a larger trend at DC. We're nearly a year and a half from the twentieth anniversary of the Vertigo imprint, which launched by converting six mature readers' titles from DC continuity to a separate, parallel continuity. Each month during that first year they would be joined by new ongoing titles and mini-series, often based on other DC characters excised from super-hero continuity. Doom Patrol was one of those Cardinal Six, all of which but Hellblazer were cancelled before the end of 1996. In a previous post, "DP05-AB The Wilderness Years" (intended as an appendix to the Pollack Period), I listed the appearances of the group (or more often, merely Cliff) between the Pollack and Arcudi tenures. The cumulative effect is the distinct sense that writers and editors alike missed having quirky and fringe characters to contrast their mainstream heroes. When those characters were already engaged in their own titles in another imprint, not being allowed to use them must have been easier to accept. But to see them sitting in the cancelled pile while you've got two dozen Bloodlines characters to work with (or not, as was the case with nearly every one but Hitman) must have been unbearably galling. After 2000's Totems the efforts at reintegration became more overt than the period pieces and cameos of The Wilderness Years. There was the Arcudi Period, of course, but also Animal Man's appearance in Hawkman and his much higher profile roles in the Rann/Thanagar War and 52, both spun off from Infinite Crisis. But it was during the Giffen period that the gate started opening in both directions.

.....Not long before the (until recently) current series began in the DCU, Madame Xanadu began under the Vertigo imprint. She debuted in the seventies as a DC horror host, eventually stepping forward as a character in her own one-shot. She was one of the few hosts who did not become characters in Sandman. [Side note: considering how many did become Gaiman's cast (Cain, Abel, Eve, Destiny, Lucien and the Three Witches, at least) I've often wondered if there's an old DC, Charlton, Fawcett or Quality horror comic out there hosted by Mad Hattie.] Since 1996 the Vertigo imprint has predominantly introduced original characters and features. It is commonly assumed that the explanation for Vertigo's early success was some combination of three factors: it retained older readers who had become disenchanted with the conventions of adventure fantasy; it brought in new, previously non-comics-reading audiences who had never been enchanted by super-heroes in the first place; and it freed creators from obligations to continuity, an incentive that would attract the most creative contributors. Whatever cache an established character might have, to remove them from the DCU in order to publish them under Vertigo might not impede any of those factors, but that cache also ceases to be the advantage it might have been in the DCU. There have been occasional attempts at re-imagining existing characters, some successful (Human Target), some not (The Creeper) and some forgotten (Vertigo Visions:Tomahawk). But the greatest volume of Vertigo's publishing since 2000 has been legacy titles (Hellblazer, Fables, House of Mystery, House of Secrets) and original properties (100 Bullets, Y the Last Man, Transmetroplitan- originally Helix, DMZ). The last that I had noticed Madame Xanadu in the DCU, she had been blinded by the unanchored Spectre during Infinite Crisis. The Vertigo title takes place in the past, moving forward from the days of King Arthur in the first issue and ending the first arc with the 1930's (and the start of DC Comics) in issue #10. Along the way she meets Jason Blood, the Phantom Stranger, Zatara and a few other surprises from DC's supernatural history. For the second arc, Exodus Noir, she meets the Golden Age Sandman (Wesley Dodds) and Dian Belmont in 1940. Wes and Dian had their own long-running Vertigo title without ever really being removed from the DCU, but Wes became inactive for health reasons in the Justice Society Of America series that was cancelled just as his Vertigo title Sandman Mystery Theatre began in 1993. Right after it was cancelled in 1999 the Justice Society returned in a series of one-shots (fighting Steve Ditko's 1975 Stalker character of all people). While his Vertigo series went on his old teammates appeared individually (Jay in Flash, Alan in Green Lantern Quarterly, Nabu in Fate, and Spectre in his own title-- more on that later) but outside of Zero Hour the Justice Society rarely appeared as a group. It would almost appear as though Wes was complying with the continuity quarantine, give or take a Starman arc. But the next Madame Xanadu story really raised an eyebrow when it used the Martian Manhunter as a guest star (and given J'onn's eyebrows, that's saying something). Set in the 1950's, Broken House Of Cards may have been a nod to Gerard Jones' American Secrets prestige mini-series, but there's no precedent for the JLA stalwart being anything other than squarely in the DCU, Final Crisis or not. Now the last six issues of Madame Xanadu are scheduled to be collected on August 10th as Extra Sensory. They are six stand-alone issues each by a different artist with the only unifying themes being the 1960's and the senses of perception. There are no DCU guests until the last issue, the sixth sense, when the Phantom Stranger reappears. Their exchange, on pages 19-20, is a pretty explicit acknowledgement of the DCU:
  • PS: "A new age dawns. A return to the time of heroes...Such an era will see dramatic changes, a procession of nearly infinite crises...You have, I assume, foreseen such a confluence of grandeur?
  • MX: "I-- yes...I have seen their coming. A new speedster and a green guardian. A micronaut and a sea king. An archer and his siren. Even... a Martian. And this pantheon shall spawn a trinity of epic scale-- three champions who shall fight for and inspire the entire nation... but that doesn't explain why you are here..."
  • PS: "I merely seek to understand your position in these upcoming events-- and to react accordingly... Do you still plan to...what is the saying? 'Sit this one out'?"
.....Well, that's what we all want to know. All 29 issues were written by Matt Wagner with #13 on edited by Shelly Bond. While the two of them aren't going to be dictating companywide editorial policy, the Stranger is asking of Madame Xanadu what we the audience would like to ask Vertigo as a whole. As you might guess from the gaps in the quotes above, I've heavily edited the exchange for brevity's sake. Xanadu's response is, in essence, "if it happens, it happens". Well, it's been happening more and more. Last year Death had a major part in Action Comics #894 (12/10). Shade (the Changing Man, or Rac Shade) featured in two Hellblazer arcs; "Sectioned" in #267 (07/10)- #270 (10/10) and "Bloody Carnations" in #271 (11/10)- #275 (03/11). He was last seen on the planet Meta on a single page in #272, but will appear again this year as one of at least three DCU mini-series featuring ex-Vertigo stars:
  • Flashpoint: Secret Seven - A three part series written by Peter Milligan, who wrote the Hellblazer arcs, and drawn by George Pérez. It will include, at least, Shade, Amethyst and Enchantress.
  • Flashpoint: Legion Of Doom - A three part series written by Adam Glass and including Animal Man among others.
  • Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing - The title sort of explains itself. It's another three part series, this one written by one-time Hellblazer editor Jonathan Vankin. This one will most likely be in for the greatest amount of preemptory bile owing to the fact that there had been plans for a China Miéville-scripted Vertigo Swamp Thing series due to begin publishing in 2010 that was cancelled in the scripting stage. After considering the series, DC had made a decision about returning the established characters who had migrated to Vertigo back to their native DCU soil and no one's soil is richer than Swamp Thing's. While the publisher didn't have misgivings about Miéville's work to my knowledge, an age-restricted script with no connection to any other publications in their roster would be inconsistent with their plans beyond 2010. To Swamp Thing fans this translated to knowingly shelving a good script in favor of one that had not been plotted yet. It's difficult to rail against a blank spot on a rack but when the BDA series arrives it will provide a locus for the resentment over a lost year of Swamp Thing stories.
.....So what does all this mean for the Doom Patrol? With the series cancelled it means less than it could. At best the greater the number of characters with similar marketing histories and, by implication, audiences makes it more likely that DC can cultivate a group identity functionally like the shared identity that the Cardinal Six had as mature readers titles before they were formally rebranded as 'Vertigo'. It's commonly understood that the Vertigo name was created so that the identity that those titles already shared could be extended to new titles and projects. There was no need to build a brand; it already existed, it just didn't have a name. This year it seems DC has decided to remove the stone from the stone soup. Frankly, Vertigo no longer needs Shade or Kid Eternity to sell Fables or American Vampire. At worst, DC could create a pointless, bureaucratic imprint-for-its-own-sake like Marvel's Marvel Knights or Midnight Sons. At best it could trust their audiences to make those associations among repatriated titles and perhaps create a group editorial page unique to them in place of On The Ledge or DC Nation. Doom Patrol and other characters not currently under their own titles could move amongst titles in the group during the year but still participate in annual Crisis events, providing those events are once a year and last 6 or 7 weeks instead of 6 or 7 months. A quarterly anthology wouldn't be a bad idea, but a proper Doom Patrol story needs a few issues to, first, lay out the weirdness and, then, make sense of it, or at least sense enough to wrangle it. Ultimately, it may go direct-to-trade.

.....I mentioned earlier that there would be more on the Spectre. There will be, but not in this post. And Mento is involved.