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Last week, I rambled on about the lack of superheroes in both Futures End and the two Avengers titles written by Jonathan Hickman (or about what constitutes a ‘superhero’ at this point) and, as much as I’d like to find some other topic to ramble on about this week, a couple of big ol’ softballs were lobbed up in the form of shirtless, bearded Superman and obsessive, cranky old-man Captain America. The two most ‘superheroic’ characters in DC and Marvel depicted as men that barely resemble their so-called superheroic selves. If these two aren’t superheroes anymore, what hope is there for anyone?
What is a superhero? Both Futures End and New Avengers have spent two dozen issues dancing around this question, neither providing answers yet. This was an easy question to answer in the past, but, as stories became more morally complex and easy solutions were eliminated by increasing demands of realism and logic, the exact definition seems more elusive than ever. When the enemy is cosmic entropy where you’re faced with the options of your planet dying, saving your planet by killing another, or both planets dying… what is the heroic action? How much are you expected to give? Is sacrificing your life more noble than sacrificing your soul? What are the ethics of a secret identity and when do you cross the line between protecting yourself and lying to your loved ones? For a lot of readers, these questions are a nuisance in a genre that’s supposed to be escapism and pure entertainment. For me, these are the only questions that matter anymore.
In stories that take place in the future, the reader is always playing catch-up to some degree or another. It’s a way to mimic the sensation of picking up an issue of a series in the middle of its run, albeit designed to be new reader friendly at the same time. How much you’re told depends on how much the writer wants to reveal at any given moment; and, unlike picking up an issue of a series in the middle of its run, you can’t go out and buy some back issues to fill in the blanks. It’s like being someone who lives in the middle of nowhere with no internet access. It’s something that Jonathan Hickman likes to do quite a bit and does in ways that are quite surprising.
The idea of someone else taking up the mantle of a superhero who dies or retires is so engrained into superhero comics that I imagine many reacted to the reveal that Shazam is the masked Superman five years from now like I did: so what? It was an interesting mystery to see how and why Superman had changed from the character we know, but the fact that someone else was Superman wasn’t anything good or bad. It was a neutral move, one almost expected from a superhero comic set in the future. Of course someone else was Superman. If not him than Batman. Or Green Lantern. Of the Flash. It can’t be a superhero future without at least one replacement hero. That people would feel betrayed by someone else donning the mantle of Superman is somewhat foreign to us as readers. It’s one of the things Futures End has gotten exactly right.
I’ve had a lot of less-than-positive things to say about Futures End and DC’s theme month supposedly tied to it lately. The month was a flop, from my perspective, rarely enhancing the weekly series, often contradicting it, and, most likely, offering little for most regular readers of titles aside from a disruption (hell, I buy Wonder Woman every month, but skipped it this month… even while buying many Futures End one-shots… and Futures End being co-written by the writer of Wonder Woman, but he didn’t write the Futures End: Wonder Woman issue… wow, how did DC manage that scenario?). However, I’ve got to say, this week, I was fairly pleased with the Futures End comics that I got. Let’s shove Futures End: Aquaman and the Others #1 aside, because it functions as a conclusion to the story started three weeks ago in Futures End: Aquaman #1 and was, at best, a neutral book and, at worst, a complete waste of my time and money. The other three comics, though, are pretty much what I had hoped for this month.
Comparing Futures End and “Time Runs Out” seems natural. It’s a bit difficult after 20 issues (and numerous one-shots) of the former and only one issue of the latter. You would think, under those circumstances, the future of Futures End would feel more fleshed out and compelling than the brief glimpse we get of Marvel eight months from now. I didn’t find that to be true. Avengers #35 was far more engrossing in the future it presents, how it relates to the ‘present,’ and how well it defines the changes that have happened. It genuinely feels different and new, like the future is supposed to feel. Has Futures End ever felt that way?
See, my problem is that I keep trying to find cohesion where there is none. Thematically, there are throughlines, perhaps, but they are often tenuous and, quite frankly, rely on me making small leaps to bring them all together. And that was when I was only writing about Futures End. Now that we have entered September and there’s the line-wide “Futures End” event, finding cohesion, even on a thematic level, is damn near impossible. We’re only in the second week and I’m not at all sure what DC intended with this month. Some titles hint at the events of the weekly series, most contradict part of them, and a few are focused enough to at least provide an issue for the monthly readers of the title to buy. If, you know, its issue this month is actually done by the regular creative team, which is iffy at best. Last year’s “Villain Month” line of books were at least willing to divorce themselves from the regular line, to do their own thing and, in a few rare cases, actually worry about the regular monthly readers. Hell, many titles had numerous one-shots under their banner, while a bunch of regular monthlies just skipped a month. There seemed to be plan there. This time around, I can’t see it.
The first issue of Futures End ended with the death of Green Arrow and, aside from the funeral in the second issue and the two parts of Firestorm dealing with the fallout of not being there to save him, it’s completely faded from the book. It wasn’t until last week when Emiko mentioned the death of her brother to Barda that it really returned in any way. It’s been the sleeper plot of the book, there from the beginning, but never spoken of. I’ve been waiting to address it, figuring that the release of Futures End: Green Arrow #1 would be a good chance if the series proper hadn’t already done so… and who knew that the timing of that one-shot and the weekly series would be so good?
We are still reading post-The Authority superhero comics almost exclusively. While Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA kicked off the Blockbuster Widescreen Era of superhero comics, the Warren Ellis/Bryan Hitch/Paul Neary/Laura DePuy The Authority took that sensibility and added on a subtle question of morality and heroism that remains unresolved. Granted, that question wasn’t introduced there, but it was popularised – it became an integral part of the superhero comic language after that point, floating to the surface now and then only to be smacked down because of the terrible implications. Here, it has risen again and shows itself in very different ways in Futures End #17 and Avengers #34. Basically, how far must a superhero go to save the world? How far before they stop being a hero and become a villain? Is there even a line?
We don’t know what happened to Earth 2 yet. The word ‘refugee’ has been thrown around and we know that there is no contact with that parallel world anymore. Is the path between universes simply blocked? Is the world dead? Destroyed? If so, who destroyed it? The Justice League? Superman? Darkseid? Was its destruction malicious? Self-sacrifice? Pure survival on the part of the Nu52DCU Earth? Are there really heroes in Futures End? DC has always been oddly comfortable with killing worlds, whether their heroes were complicit in the act or not. “Worlds will live, worlds will die” was the tagline after all (more like “A world will live, all other worlds will die” by the end, eh?). It wouldn’t surprise me to know that Earth 2 is in fact destroyed and that it was already revealed in Futures End in such an offhand manner that I didn’t notice enough to remember.
So, what’s the deal with Superman? We’re rushing towards the big reveal of why Superman wears a mask now and why his personality seems to have changed, and it’s apparently none of the reasons people previously thought. His conversation with Lois here is one of the longer ones he’s had in the series – and one of the most revealing.
I can’t say if I’ve yet to do a post where I directly and honestly state what I think about Futures End. Usually, I hone in on an idea or an approach and run with it, more interested in the exercise than what I actually think as a reader. It makes for a more interesting run of posts (for me, at least), but does build up a wall of sorts. Here we are at issue 14 and you have no idea if I like this comic or not. My posts tend to lean towards exploring the flaws of the book, but that’s no indication of my enjoyment (or lack thereof) of the comic. Flaws are more appealing to me. I like picking things apart and seeing what’s beneath the seeming misstep. This week, I think I’ll try something different: a direct, honest exploration of my thoughts on Futures End #14.
No one likes Futures End. That’s what I see/read/hear across the internet. As we enter what would be the second year of any other comic, that seems important. I haven’t checked the sales charts because… I don’t care. I’d rather create a fictional reader that has been reading Futures End and doesn’t care for what it has been getting every week yet continues. This reader isn’t me, because I’ve been enjoying Futures End, possibly for none of the intended reasons. So, really, I’m the wrong guy to try and write about why this fictional reader isn’t liking Futures End. But, what the hell…
And, now, a story…
Futures End is a comic about the future, structured in a way that evokes the future, yet it seems unable to escape the past. Part of that is the nature of a story set five years in the future. A surprising amount of it will unavoidably be devoted to what happened between now and five years from now. So much of that is implicit in the storytelling where simply telling the stories of these characters reveals the past. That’s not quite what’s happening here. While this comic is about the future, it’s also about the inescapable past and how the future is not just built on the foundation of the past, it’s continually defined by it.