If I Ran DC, part three: Action Comics through Green Lantern Corps
By Michael David Sims
31 October 2007 — After taking two weeks to look at how I'd oversee DC's various imprints, today I'll cover 13 comics in DC's core universe. Some, I guarantee, will shock you, and I'm expecting hate mail due to a certain omission. What book did I leave off this A to G list? Read on to find out! But first, the rules:
01. All books are monthly, unless otherwise noted.
02. Creators will be given a 12-month head start.
03. No writer can author more than four monthly comics at a time.*
04. No artist can illustrate more than one monthly and one mini at a time.*
05. No one will write and / or draw a comic they're currently working on.*
06. Exclusive contracts are void.
07. With but very few exceptions, no character can have more than one title.
* Creator-owned work excluded.
Writers: Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek
Artists: Mark Bagley, Freddie Williams II, Adrian Alphona and Mark Brooks
Yes, under my vision, Action Comics will be taken to a weekly schedule. Not only does it have the name recognition to support it from week to week (what with it being the comic that launched Superman), it also stars, well, Superman! Written by Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek, Action Comics would be a weekly romp through the DC Universe. It would pay respect to the past while flying towards the future — as a Superman comic book should. For too long Superman has been stagnant; the Man of Tomorrow lives in the City of Tomorrow, yet often he stands still as the world moves past him. But not anymore! Presenting him weekly will make sure he evolves over time. These four artists were chosen because all of their styles are somewhat similar; Mark Bagley, Freddie Williams II, Adrian Alphona and Mark Brooks all bring youthfulness to the table. While Superman isn't the most youthful character, these artists would make sure his spirit seemed young. On top of that, Metropolis would glisten like never before. No other city in comic books (or the real world) should look so clean and technologically advanced — again, reiterating the City of Tomorrow nickname.
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: David Aja
Four books should serve as the backbone of the DC Universe, with Batman as an obvious choice. That said, the creative team must be of the highest order. Whoever pens and pencils this book has to understand the character: he's a deeply troubled man stuck in a state of arrested development. He's obsessed with stopping evildoers, believing that each criminal he brings in could be the killer of his parents. Despite the fact that he's a withdrawn loner, over the years he's attempted to build a family — a family he pushes away at any given turn. If nothing else, Batman is complex and that absolutely must come through in the writing. There's something to be said about the grim and gritty Batman, but his softer side shouldn't be neglected for "cool" teeth-gritting moments. Geoff Johns has my stamp of approval here because of the complexity he brought to Teen Titans. Much like the Fantastic Four, the Teen Titans are a family first and superheroes second. It was in those familial interactions that I felt the book excelled above all others. Under him Kon-El gained a faithful following of fans, a Herculean feat if there ever was one. If he can turn the clone Superboy into a fan favorite, if he can make each one of those Teen Titans feel like teenagers, if he can make their personalities resonate off the page, he can address Batman's twisted mind and family unit in a coherent manner — without falling into an abyss of psychoanalytical murkiness, too. David Aja is a relative newcomer, but his work on The Immortal Iron Fist has instantly impacted the medium. It took one issue — not a lifetime or body of work — for people to sing his praises. His lines are seemingly a blending of Jae Lee and Michael Lark, but there's a hint of European comics thrown in there for good measure. Iron Fist, by its very nature, is an action comic. Not because it's set in the Marvel Universe, but because of its kung fu roots. Action is frenzied, yet never confusing. Even the slower moments, such as when Danny Rand sits in a boardroom, are compelling. Nothing about his artwork bores readers, not even when the pace must shift from action to talking heads. And his use of the comic book page to convey time and speed is unbelievable. A description wouldn't do it justice, so I won't bother. All these things I just outlined can easily be applied to Batman and Bruce Wayne, hence the reason Aja was chosen for this assignment.
The Brave and the Bold
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Anderson
Ever since Infinite Crisis comic book readers have been wondering what's in continuity. The phrase "New Earth" has become both a joke and safety net; when something goes against pre-IC continuity, "Oh, that's just New Earth," editors will say. Funny at first, now the joke has grown old. The best way to rid the world of the joke is to explore exactly what "New Earth" means in terms of continuity. The Brave and the Bold, as written by Kurt Busiek, a scribe known for his respect of continuity, will explore the origins of DC's pantheon. These characters weren't born / bestowed with powers, a moment later choosing to become a superhero or villain. Every single character has a story that needs to be told, especially now that history has been rewritten yet again. Dedicating six issues per origin will allow the writer plenty of space to tell how and why these men and women came to live these lives, and why they continue to do so. Furthermore, once these origins have been told in The Brave and the Bold, that's it. They're cannon. Tweaks which only serve to confuse readers and negate Busiek's stories will not be allowed. Why Brent Anderson? His work on Astro City brought a certain humble charm to those characters. They're very real, and that's something you don't get by watching Superman and Batman nowadays. If these characters are to live in our imaginations, we need to ask a very simple question: what about their rise? Anderson would infuse these characters with humility and strength, life and wisdom as they grow from their humble beginnings into the stuff of legends.
Brave New World
Format: 48 pages
Brave New World has two agendas. First, established creators will be given 36 pages to tell a story involving brand new characters. These established stars will be adding new toys to the box, so to speak, in one-off tales. If other creators are so inclined, they can then use these new characters in their own books. And keep in mind, these new characters need not be superheroes. A crafty writer might add a new reporter to the Daily Planet's roster, or maybe a new police officer has joined the Gotham City Police Department. Whoever these characters are, they're sure to enrich the entire universe. The second goal of the series is to give new creators a tryout. They'll receive the remainder of the issue to tell stories involving established characters. By focusing on characters such as Flash, Nightwing, Aquaman and so on, they'll concentrate on telling a fresh story, rather than worrying about building a new character from the ground floor while presenting readers with their unique voice.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Frank Cho
In the 1990s Catwoman was the prototypical comic book bad girl: large breasts and a firm ass, but little to no substance in the way of character. Thanks to Ed Brubaker's 2002 relaunch, no longer is Catwoman a busty thief in purple tights; under his guidance, she began a crusade for Gotham's east end. As her breasts were toned down, her character began to develop in new and surprising ways. She became just as human (RE: flawed) as Brian Michael Bendis' Daredevil, and that's why I've tapped Bendis for Catwoman. Tragically human / street level / noir characters are perfect for Bendis, and he's perfect for them. Instead of approaching the characters head-on — from the obvious angle — the writer isn't afraid to skew their world and our vision of the characters living in it. What comes out the other side is something unique, and everyone — from the characters to the readers — is better for it. Frank Cho is here for the obvious reason: the man can draw awesome action, stunning women and believable environments. If you think he's all about the T&A, you're wrong. Say what you will about its timeliness, Cho's work on Mighty Avengers is stunning. When the script calls for light, humorous moments, Cho delivers. When the script calls for dark, quiet moments which can only be expressed on the characters' faces, Cho delivers. When the script calls for nothing but action, Cho delivers. And he does it all in spades.
Challengers of the Unknown
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Karl Kerschl
Forget everything you think you learned at the conclusion of 52. The multiverse is back, yes, but it's nowhere near as small as we've come to believe. In fact, one might say there are an infinite number of realities to explore. And explored they will be, thanks to the Challengers of the Unknown: Power Girl, Kid Flash (Bart Allen), Traci Thirteen, Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) and Booster Gold. Judd Winick isn't attached because he launched Exiles for Marvel — which is admittedly very much like my version of Challengers of the Unknown. He's here because of the cast: they're funny and serious and mystical, but there's an underlying hint of dread in each of their hearts. These five characters are trapped in a never-ending mesh of realities. The chance of getting home is one in infinity, otherwise known as zero. As this realization settles in, Judd — having been a part of the Real World experience — will understand better than anyone how these characters will bond and fight, love and hate as they make the best of this crazy situation. He'll bring a sense of reality (no pun intended) to Challengers. For this comic I wanted someone with a style that was clearly influenced by animation, yet expressive. With Bart and Ted and Booster on the team, comedy is obviously going to be a key element here, but there should also be a sense of wonder and loss. From time to time that angst needs to roll over the characters like a dense fog. Karl Kerschl's pencils bring humor and depth and humanity all at once. His women aren't all top-heavy, meaning Traci and Kara wouldn't be twins with different hairdos — Kara would clearly be older than the teenage Traci. His men are fit, but not steroid junkies; their bodies represent their type. Bart would be short and sleek — like a young runner. Ted would look good for his age, but a little soft around the middle — like an active, but aging man. And Booster would be Booster — the fittest due to his ego. As noted before, Kerschl's animated style would allow him to bring an alien wonder to each world. Some realities might resemble home, but there will still be that awe — that curiosity to explore each place until the Challengers are sure it isn't theirs.
Honestly, I like the idea of JLA: Classified and JSA: Classified, but I see no reason to limit the concept to those two teams. DC has a rich pool of characters, many of whom could become quite popular if given the chance to shine. That's what DCU: Classified is all about; if a writer has a Mr. Freeze or a Bouncing Boy or a Klarion the Witch Boy story he's dying to tell but it doesn't fit any of the current storylines, it can be told here. Of course, artists would be paired with stories that fit their strengths, so you won't see the realistic / photo-referenced style of Greg Land on a cartoony story. It should also be noted that each storyline would be two issues in length, much like Marvel's Nextwave. Single-issue stories are great — when done right. Sadly, most feel rushed, with the story ending abruptly simply because the back cover is looming. Giving each creative team two issues to tell their tale would ensure that the story had enough room to breathe, but not so much that it needed to be padded.
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Lewis LaRosa
My feelings about Batman and Detective Comics are no secret: Batman should be the action comic, with Batman punching Joker in the face and kicking Penguin down the stairs. On the other hand, Detective should focus on Batman's world-renowned detective skills. Though still in continuity, it would be devoid of crossovers and team-ups. Detective Comics is all about Batman getting down and dirty in the blood and muck of crimes too nasty for the GCPD to solve. When you look at Detective from that perspective, comic scribe and mystery novelist Greg Rucka is clearly the man for the book. His attention to detail is second to none, which brings a sense of reality to this fantastic universe. As written by Rucka, you'll never question the implausibility of a masked bat-man investigating a crime scene in a city overrun by killer clowns, a walking refrigerator and a sentient heap of clay. Lewis LaRosa's work on The Punisher put an exclamation point on Frank Castle's age. We tend to forget that his roots are firmly entrenched in Vietnam, making Castle in his 50s. Add to that the years of war he's fought on the streets of New York City (and around the globe), and you'll come to understand why Frank Castle shouldn't look like a tall, dark, handsome man in his 30s. He's been kicked around, shot, stabbed and broken so many times, it's a wonder he can stand. That's LaRosa's Punisher — and that would be his Batman. In fact, the only difference would be their ages. Whereas Castle's age can't be denied, Bruce Wayne should look like a man in his late 30s / early 40s. Remove his suit, however, and you'll see the scars of war. More importantly than how he'd draw Batman is how he'd render Gotham City — a character unto itself. More than any other comic book city, Gotham is alive and it weeps for its children. Buildings loom, casting great dark shadows everywhere. Sunlight barely reaches the streets. No matter the time of day, it's always dark in Gotham. Having seen how LaRosa handled the streets of New York in The Punisher, he'd excel at bringing life and death to Gotham City.
Writer: Sean McKeever
Artist: Mike Norton
More than any other DC comic, The Flash should be fun and exciting. Wally West puts off a cheerful vibe; you can't help but smile when he's around. That sense of fun should not only be felt in the universe, but also by readers. With every flip of the page our smiles should grow wider and wider. That's not to say the book should lack emotional depth or sorrowful moments. If Wally and his cast are to grow as characters, that's needed, but we should know that a smile is waiting for us by the time the issue / storyline is complete. Not in that "the bad guy has been defeated" sort of way, but in a genuinely happy sort of way. I feel Sean McKeever could bring this type of joy and depth to the characters each month. After all, he is the mastermind behind Marvel's Mary Jane comic books, and he did co-create Gravity — who's the epitome of a young, fun-loving superhero. Speaking of Gravity co-creators, Mike Norton needs to be drawing a top comic. His lines are sleek and dynamic, yet there's a retro vibe to his illustrations. They scream of youth and action and downright glee. Norton's pencils, like Wally West, make you smile. There's another reason I've placed this creative team on The Flash: I feel they're both great crossover creators. McKeever's writing speaks to both men and women, young and old. Fanboys aren't his target audience, yet he doesn't forget them. Like any good writer (in and out of comics), he grabs readers and pulls them in with compelling characters. Norton's seemingly simplified art isn't over-rendered with bold lines and crosshatching (he's very much like Mike Allred in that regard), which is something everyone can appreciate.
The Fourth World
Writers: Walt Simonson and Erik Larsen
Artists: Walt Simonson and Erik Larsen
For a book paying tribute to Jack Kirby's New Gods, a special kind of creative team is needed. Not just anyone can be thrown on a book with such a high concept — a warring alien Heaven and Hell, basically. The creators have to be people who love and honor Kirby with every stroke of their pens and pencils. His influence has to be clear, but it mustn't mask the creator's style or vision. And the two men who instantly come to mind are Walt Simonson and Erik Larsen, who would co-author and illustrate the book each month. Under their Kirby-esque vision, Highfather and Darkseid's worlds would teem with alien life forms, with one group striving for peace and the other for conquest. And though readers might be hesitant to try The Fourth World at first — fearing it to be inaccessible — Simonson and Larsen are masters at drawing readers into the mythologies of their books.
Green Arrow & Black Canary
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev
A funny thing happened in December of 2001: Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev began their epic run on Daredevil. It was fresh and stark and bubbled over with life. New characters were surprisingly well-rounded. Longtime characters were seen with new eyes. The city was a character unto itself, adding so much to the story. And the title character was now less a superhero and more an urban avenger. Everything about the book popped off the page. Much credit has to be given to writer Brian Michael Bendis for the book's success, but an equal amount must be handed to artist Alex Maleev whose dynamic vision set the standard for urban superhero comics for years to come. Having succeeded on Daredevil, it's no surprise that I'd reunite its creative team for another urban avenger. More accurately, for a pair of urban avengers: Green Arrow and Black Canary. As noted in my recent review of Green Arrow / Black Canary: Wedding Special, "I much prefer Mike Grell's more mature take on the character... boxing gloves and fire extinguishers and boomerangs used as arrows" are a joke we need to move past. They worked decades ago, but not in this modern world. Ollie and Dinah shouldn't be seen as cartoon characters; they should be a living, breathing couple who just so happen to fight crime together. Except the crime they fight isn't in space, it's on city corners and in city hall. Shuffling pushers and pimps off to jail is only a temporary solution. Cleaning up the streets from within the system, however, that's how problems get solved. And that's where this book will shine — in both the writing and art departments. Bendis and Maleev will have the opportunity to mix action and grit with talking heads and crisp suits. Green Arrow & Black Canary will be a political / crime thriller starring superheroes.
Green Lantern Corps
Writer: John Ostrander
Artist: Jacen Burrows
As you'll notice, there isn't a solo Green Lantern comic listed above. The reason for this is simple: with 7200 Lanterns running around the galaxy, I don't think there should be a focus on just one. That does a great disservice to the GLC. So what we have here is a team book. Scratch that, an army comic. Make no bones about it: the Corps may be classified as an intergalactic police force, but they're not out there busting up alien drug dealers, pimps and domestic disputes. Their job is to prevent coups, invasions and wars. Considering how devastating the Sinestro Corps War has been to the GLC, a draft would be conducted to boost their ranks to over 50,000. From this point forward the Green Lantern Corps is going to be a force felt throughout the galaxy, and they're going to be led / trained by Guy Gardner. Think of him as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: if you're a GLC trainee, you hate him with every fiber of your being, but you will be prepared for war thanks to his stone-cold training. Having written the military-esque Suicide Squad for years, John Ostrander knows a thing or two about scripting war and battles, as well as what it does to the characters who survive them. Unlike his time spent on Suicide Squad, writing Green Lantern Corps would give Ostrander the chance to play with alien worlds and countless characters. The only limitation would be his imagination. To the average comic book reader, the name Jacen Burrows won't ring any bells. To those who venture beyond capes and tights, they'll know him from two Garth Ennis-penned comics: 303 and Chronicles of Wormwood. In the latter he grounded the strange (e.g. demons, the afterlife) in reality, but there was a slight tilt to his pages. Even when set on terra firma, you could feel something odd lurking right around the corner. In the former he stretched his legs by mixing combat with quieter moments. Green Lantern Corps would allow Burrows to stir all of those elements — combat set against an alien reality, but peppered with moments of introspection — together into one visually stunning comic book.