Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Everything Old Is New Again

DC Comics has had a storied history of acquiring properties from defunct or flagging publishing houses. Acquisition of properties such as Captain Marvel, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, The Blackhawks, the Freedom Fighters and more, coming from Fawcett, Quality and Charlton were in large part responsible for the creation of the multiverse, and integrating them into the DCU proper was the mandate of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Over the past year, DC has been on a tear, picking up licenses for other long-unpublished superheroes:

In recent months DC has incorporated the Milestone heroes into their universe, squaring the Justice League off against the Shadow Cabinet, bringing Static into the Teen Titans while also pairing him with Black Lightning, pairing Hardware with Blue Beetle, and Xombi with the Spectre in the pages of the Brave and the Bold.

This month the Red Circle/Blue Ribbon/Archie comics heroes get a kick in the pants from J Michael Straczynski in a quartet of one-shots starring the Hangman, Inferno, the Web and the Shield, before each gets their own ongoing title/back-up feature pitting them square in the DC Universe.

DC recently announced at San Diego the acquisition of the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, also bringing them into the DCU proper.

At Wizard World Chicago, DC noted Brian Azzarello's pairing of Batman with Doc Savage, bringing the classic pulp hero into the DC pantheon.

But DC's not the only one playing this game:

Marvel's big news (probably the biggest of SDCC) was the acquisition of the Marvelman property.

Dark Horse has announced Jim Shooter will be revitalizing the Gold Key characters, yet again, including Turok, Magnus: Robot Fighter, Solar: Man of the Atom and the Mighty Samson.

Dynamite Entertainment has just acquired the rights to (if not the blessings of) Simon and Kirby's Fighting American which will be revived under guidance by Alex Ross, part of his creation of a "Kirbyverse" (also including Silver Star and Captain Victory), which is something he's been doing with mild success with public domain superheroes in his Project:Superpowers titles.

Almost all of these properties were given new life in the 1990's...

DC Comics tried their hand at the Fighting American in 1994, before Rob Liefeld, Jeph Loeb and Jim Starlin all gave it a stab later in the decade at Liefeld's Awesome Entertainment. Meanwhile the other "Kirbyverse" heroes (Silver Star, Teenagents) were given life ever so briefly by Topps comics in the early '90s by Roy Thomas and Kurt Busiek.

Jim Shooter had tried his hand at reviving the Gold Key heroes, launching successfully (for a time) Magnus and Solar as the early lynchpins of the Valiant universe in 1991, with Turok later to follow (spawning from there the Turok videogame franchise). After being acquired by videogame publisher Acclaim, Valiant was rebooted, only Turok surviving for a time until the 90's crash.

Marvelman, aka Miracleman has been out of print for way too long, and given that it's a masterwork from both Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, the character's notoriety combined with lack of shelf presence has granted it a mythic status. Though bound to still be mired in litigation from Todd Macfarlane's camp (who owns the copyright on the MM logo), getting these great books back on the stands is hopefully priority one.

Doc Savage was under DC's purview in the late 1980's, and in the early 1990's Millennium, a small press publisher, had the rights, before Dark Horse briefly held them mid-decade. He's been fairly absent from the comics' scene since.

For much of this decade DC has been reprinting the original Tower comics T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in their archive series, but the characters haven't been updated or used to any degree since the original run save for a failed small-press revival in the early '80

The Archie Heroes have appeared sporadically in the pages of Archie comics and digests over the years, but with no fanfare at all. With exception to the short-lived Impact Comics imprint DC attempted in the early '90's, the characters haven't seen steady publishing.

The Milestone heroes (co-published by DC) were created in the 1990's and were quite successful for over four years, but the bust of the 90's market took them out unceremoniously. Static lived on as a very successful cartoon on the WB for a few seasons, crossing over with the Justice League on Cartoon Network.

There are so many questions:

Do any of these properties, save Marvelman, have enough clout, notoriety or gravitas behind them in their checkered pasts to make them a success?

Does integrating Archie, Milestone, Tower and pulp heroes into the DCU give them more validity than their previous publishing exploits?

Are you more likely to read a Doc Savage or Black Hood or Icon comic if there's the possibility of fighting Deathstroke or the Monster Society of Evil?

Does the thought of the Sentry being revealed as Marvelman scare the pants off you?

Are fans of the vintage Gold Key comics really going to support new material?

How many of the core comics readers, arguably in their late 20's to early 40's, actually know or care that much about superheroes like the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents or Kirby heroes who sustained next to no publishing presence in their lifetimes?

I guess the real question is, does ANY of this excite YOU?


Devon Sanders said...

It excites me!

With DC's acquisition of Doc Savage, it just means we're getting ever so much closer to that Wold-Newton Universe that Warren Ellis has had his eye on.

What we're also seeing with these acquisitions is a universal truth that comics just may be the last safehouse of certain mythologies.

A lot of these characters are owned by defunct publishing houses or holding companies.

Their last greatest hope just may be their absorption into continuing corporate mythologies such as Marvel and DC.

I'm fairly certain they'll be treated with the respect due and at the very least, they'll be introduced to new audiences via the their unintended offspring or inspirations i.e. Doc teaming-up with Batman and Static teaming up with Black Lightning.

Paul Nolan said...

Dynamite can not publish anything without Simon's say so.

Their Fighting American comic is dead in the water...