With Christmas firmly in the rear-view mirror (barring a late get together or two), people the world over will begin marking off the days, hours, and minutes that remain in 2017, as they look forward to what the next year may hold. This holds just as true with the “Big 2” in the comic publishing realm. Both Marvel and DC are looking towards the New Year for a number of reasons and both are marking the time to the fruition of their centerpieces in the coming year. While the stories themselves are unrelated to one another, they both hint at the end of the status quo in unique and intriguing fashion. Now don’t get me wrong, both companies have a history of publishing such events that promise to alter the landscape going forward, and to be fair for the most part they tend to not live up to such lofty expectations. However when you pause to consider the variables at play, I think there’s a good chance that they just might be able to pull it off.
The Clock is Ticking
In The Doomsday Clock, DC has placed Geoff Johns in charge of perhaps the most game-changing story in recent memory. When you break the series down to its fundamental components, on one side you have the DCU which is in many ways the basis for all superhero comics as we know them. Their characters were the mold on which the rise of the superhero sprung from. 75+ years is an exceedingly long lifespan for any property in any medium and the permanence of these cornerstones speaks directly to the legacy they haves built. On the other hand you have The Watchmen who were conceived as sort of a deconstruction of the superhero archetype. It’s gritty, semi-real world approach was something that has resonated with readers for over 30 years despite the limited amount of “screen time” they were given. While a handful of years ago DC did in fact attempt to expand the stories of the Watchmen in their lackluster “Before Watchmen line, this is a whole other beast entirely. In many ways the two brands are such polar opposites that the merging of the two brings up a plethora of storytelling possibilities without trying to shoehorn tales into the existing fiction. I have to believe that the reason they waited so long to pull the Watchmen into continuity, foregoing sure fire money regardless of the timing, is they needed the right story with which to do it. Geoff Johns has pretty spectacular record when it comes to taking what came before and pushing it into the future. Whether it was reintroducing Silver Age characters in Rebirth arcs (I’m noticing a trend here) or blowing up the entire basis of the Green Lantern mythos, Johns always seems to manage the balancing act of breathing new life into old favorites while at the same time staying true to the spiritual core of the characters.
There are very few creators that have managed to achieve them both simultaneously. Granted at the time of this writing only a single issue has been released, but aside from nailing the “feel” of the Watchmen universe, I’d like to direct your attention to the two new additions to the cast that he has so far introduced. The Mime and The Marionette slide right in with the established characters without feeling forced due, in no small part, to the fact that they, like the classic characters, are rooted in the past. While Watchmen was a breath of fresh air, the basis of all of the characters comes directly from former publisher Charlton. Nite-Owl was the Blue Beetle, Rorschach was the Question, Mime and Marionette are Punch and Jewlee (see Tom King’s “I am Suicide” arc from Batman for their modern take.) Even when adding his own ideas, Johns draws inspiration from the same source. With so much more story to go, it’s impossible for me to guess what twists and turns the story will take, but I await the coming issues with great expectations. On a side note, I’ve taken to picturing the Doomsday Clock as reading 11 months until midnight. But that’s
Counting to Infinity
On the other side of the equation you have Marvel. For all the dominance they’re experiencing in other mediums, they are currently fighting an uphill battle on the comics front. Following the lukewarm response to Secret Empire, Marvel vowed to take a break from their barrage of event-series. Then they announced a trilogy of graphic novels, the first of which is “Infinity Siblings”, complete with a lead in series aptly titled “Countdown to Infinity Siblings”. I know, that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when the said it was time for a break either, but don’t throw in the towel just yet. Given the upcoming “Infinity War” movie, they pretty much HAD to raise the profile of Thanos, they’d have been fools to not capitalize on a little cross-promotion synergy. When you’re dealing with “The Mad Titan” it’s basically a requirement that it be in the context of a giant, reality altering event. His legend calls for nothing less, to do otherwise would be a disservice to the character. Just because its an event, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be bloated mess that requires you to read 20 titles a month just to keep up, in fact there are two main reasons that give me cause to hope. The first being that in addition to Thanos’ and his brother, former Avenger Eros, the third key figure we’re aware of in the story is Kang the Conqueror. Just as Thanos is irrevocably tied to the grand, cosmic-scale events, Kang is equally tied to cross-time shenanigans. In point of fact, while I’m sure the potential ramifications of this event have dire consequences for the Marvel universe as a whole, the actual doings will be unlikely to effect the ongoing monthly series in more than a passing way. But it IS Marvel so I very well could be wrong.
My second point (and this one I’m sure of) is that it’s to be written by Jim Starlin. No single creator has had as much of a lasting impact on Marvel’s cosmic stories than this man, even the more recent space sagas are directly influenced by his work. This is the man who originally gave us Thanos back in the 70’s and the Infinity Trilogy in the 90’s upon which so much has been based. As the “father” of Thanos, there is no one who knows Thanos of Titan the way Starlin does. Due to conflicts with editorial, this is, at this time, his last work for Marvel, it’s fitting that it will end with what was to be his final Thanos tale even had he continued his collaboration with the company. It’s his swan song with a character that he will forever be tied to. Based off his track record, I go in fully expecting this to be up to his usual standards. His earlier work was marked with Events at a time when that was the exception rather than the rule, so a strong case can be made that this is the right decision at the right time rather than the usual event for event’s sake. It’s clear that at this early stage of the game, these events may stay the course, continuing the unfortunate trend of stories that fall victim to their own hype. No matter how well intentioned the creators may be it’s exceedingly difficult to capture that lightning in a bottle that allows stories to become a cherished part of the lore. At the same time without the courage to go out on a limb and try new things with familiar faces they’re doomed to stagnation. Given the two men who are tasked with the telling of these tales, chances are good that they will deliver with their usual style AND substance. The times, they are changing but its clear that both companies are doing so with an eye to the past, as they chart their course for the future.