Handle With Care

*Apparently, Jacen Burrows is the artist for the upcoming original Alan Moore project at Avatar, which now appears to be a miniseries rather than a graphic novel. Unless Moore is now doing multiple original projects with the publisher. Read the whole interview, by the way - Burrows is one of the strongest among Avatar's house artists, and he has a unique perspective on the industry, as well as detailed advice for up-and-comers.

*52 Dept: In which the fifteenth week of the 52 project brings us a fifteenth week of 52. Standing in stark contrast to some other ambitious Events conjured by DC and Marvel in the past few years - I have this weird feeling that something happened recently with Civil War, though I just can’t put my finger on it. Is something about it on the internet? Did Spider-Man take off another article of clothing in front of everyone (particularly retailers)?

Actually, the situation provides an interesting peek at how DC, through 52’s very structure, seeks to insulate itself from the possibility of the series flying off the rails. One Year Later isn’t just an attention-grabbing storytelling device; it’s a guarantee that all of DC’s other books will be able to sweat out the possibility of the ambitious megaproject getting lost for a while. In many ways, 52 is as insulated from the most active universal goings-on as Seven Soldiers, another large DCU project, and one that actually did encounter significant lateness problems - if anything, the scrapes and scraps of the Seven Soldiers follow-up that we’ve managed to glimpse in subsequent DC comics have only made the still-absent ending to the damned thing even more tantalizing, since anything related to the project can be carefully danced around due to the whole affair taking place in the past, among the most minor of characters. 52 covers a wider area, and a ‘bigger’ (in terms of visibility) cast, but its temporal positioning still sets it safely off to one side, so that everything can continue in lieu of its uninterrupted momentum.

You probably couldn’t do a really big, tentpole Event that way. It’d sap the appeal, frankly. One of the attractions of those things (financially as well as story-wise) is that a billion other books need to respond immediately to its sheer damned bigness. You risk complaints of nothing important happening otherwise, charges of empty hype. It’s what Direct Market fandom at large has come to demand with its dollars (as Tom Spurgeon said of the whole affair, “Marvel disappointed their fans but screwed their retailers; the fans will get over it, the retailers have to.”), and really it’s a bit surprising that this sort of situation hasn’t cropped up sooner. The main unique factor seems to be Marvel willing to trade off a harsh present financial result for a certain presumed quality of the future, as odd as it might initially seem to be hearing artistic coherency arguments surrounding a sprawling comics megaproject with 70 tie-ins or something. 52, by precautionary design, will never have that much of a potential domino effect about it, but it’s clear that a weekly series can still go very wrong very quickly, so additional safeguards are nonetheless in place. Lord knows it's been plain from nearly the start that the visuals are going to change issue-by-issue, making quick substitutions feel smoother than they otherwise would, and certainly those new back-up features can fairly easily be switched in and out if need be, without much of an aesthetic sacrifice (as this and last issue have demonstrated). No need to walk that tightrope without a net, even if it wasn’t clear that a net was truly necessary until now.

The project hasn’t needed it yet, and this issue is another decent one. It’s a nearly all-Booster installment, a big fight with Supernova (whom I really hope is not some sort of Superman robot double, if those still exist, since that would ruin those neat Clark Kent sequences that keep turning up) and a miscellaneous giant monster, and one that fittingly has a bit of fun with the nature of time as experienced through the series. We blow through four days of the week in a page and a quarter, kind of winking at the fact that Booster hasn’t done much in the past few time-tethered issues (sadly, the ‘no more money’ aspect of the plot still doesn’t ring true). There’s a great little irony at work, with Booster’s actions throughout the issue causing all the disasters predicted at its beginning. We even get a nice feeling of having come full circle, in which Booster once again encounters unexpected problems in front of that big Superman statue, the kink in his armor as seen in issue #1 recalled in the context of mistakes with a bit more finality.

Only a bit, mind you - everything from the directness of the cover to the semi-off-page nature of Booster’s fate to the spoooooky materials recovered from that concluding blast scream that there’s still some gold left in our world. Same goes for the increasingly farcical foreshadowing of what’s going to happen to the Question (“I’m… ngk… with you to the end, Renee…” - Christ, why not have this be his last mission before retirement too while you’re at it?), as glimpsed in his and "she-wolf" Montoya’s 4-page interlude. But there is a real sense of Booster's themes being wrapped up for now, his smiling face blithely anticipating the next level of popularity he'll no doubt receive, though not in the way he'd like (unless it's all planned out, which is possible). Next issue promises some big Black Adam/Isis moments; coupled with the Magnus bits from last issue and Ralph focus of two issues ago, there's a real sense that the writing team is trying to press the subplots into their new forms for the project's second quarter, as the big machine trundles ahead, not yet slowed.