GutterGeek Column: WEDNESDAY SHOP TALK

Posted by on June 23rd, 2010 at 11:17 PM

Wednesday Shop Talk: DC’s Dexterous Dozens

A few weeks ago, the last issue of Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Amanda Conner’s run on Power Girl shipped. I was looking forward to that issue because I truly enjoyed almost every bit of that book, but I hated that it was the last issue featuring that creative team. The whole point of the Power Girl series (a creatively peaking, truly collaborative artistic team directing a great character with worlds of potential) seemed to have vanished after the publication of #12. After having just read #13 (written by Judd Winick) tonight, I can say with regret that my suspicions were right. As good as Sami Basri’s art is, this series should have ended at 12 issues. The fate of Power Girl has gotten me thinking about DC’s track record when it comes to periodical publications. As it turns out, 12 is about as close as it gets to a magic number for this company.

I’m not much into numerology. By “not much,” I mean “not at all.” But I do recognize the significance of repeating patterns, and sometimes these are hard to ignore. The number 12 has been important in many cultures and many religions throughout many times. It’s an important number in Christianity and Judaism (Apostles and tribes of Israel among dozens of other occurrences in the Bible) as well as in Greek mythology (the number of Olympian gods). It’s also important in the ways we measure chronology: hours in the day, months in the years, signs of the Zodiac, and lunar years in the Chinese calendar (and, of course, the days of Christmas). It’s a sublime and composite number that measures the inches in a foot and the number of members of a jury. This stuff just keeps going on forever, so I should just say that 12 is also the number of issues in a perfect (or nearly perfect) DC series.

I could lament the loss of Power Girl—a consistently solid monthly book in a vast sea of sameness and mediocrity. I could sulk about the commercial demands that will make the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four and Bendis/Bagley Ultimate Spider-Man runs impossible to replicate (or even approach) in today’s publication climate. But I thought it would be more enjoyable and less depressing to revisit some of DC’s other successful dozen-issue runs instead. The first series that will come to most comics folks’ minds is Watchmen, but this trend predates Moore and Gibbons’ work by several years and extends a couple decades after it. I first noticed the trend when Darwyn Cooke’s run on The Spirit came to an end at about the same time All-Star Superman was wrapping up in 2008. The rules for compiling the following list were pretty simple: The title had to consist of (or at least contain) a 12-issue run written and illustrated by the same basic team for almost every issue of the run. Several books (such as Robert Loren Fleming’s Thriller) came close to making the list but missed because they changed writers or artists in the middle of the run.

Camelot 3000 #1-12. Mike W. Barr (writer) and Brian Bolland (artist). 1982-1985.

Camelot 3000 is the first official 12-issue maxi-series published by DC. What’s surprising is that it was also told with an impressive degree of craftsmanship and attention to detail. Barr’s script offered sophisticated sci-fi storytelling for the early 80s (it begins with a T.S. Eliot quote after a splash page of a knight and an evil magician), but it’s Bolland’s tight, clean pencils and inks that make this book fun to read almost three decades later.

Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld #1-12. Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn (writers), Ernie Colon (artist). 1983-1984.

Amethyst presents the story of a 13-year-old girl who becomes a 20-year-old princess in a world full of precious stones when she steps through a magic portal. It’s what you would imagine Boy George’s dreams to look like, except that the writing and art are strong enough that even straight male readers can (still) enjoy it. Chalk much of Amethyst’s success up to editor Karen Berger (Swamp Thing, Sandman). This book is like a Rubik’s Cube: a bright, colorful puzzle that’s firmly rooted in the early 80s.

Jemm, Son of Saturn #1-12. Greg Potter (writer), Gene Colan and Klaus Janson (artists). 1984-1985.

The fact that Martian Manhunter is one of my favorite characters (and Jemm was originally conceived as a member of the Manhunter’s supporting cast) is probably the reason why I still think this was a great book. That and the Gene Colan art. Intergalactic politics and intrigue aren’t always my thing, but they worked here. For such a ridiculous-sounding concept, I’m surprised how well this book holds up.

Watchmen #1-12. Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (artist). 1986-1987.

Really, there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said before.

JLA Year One #1-12. Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn (writers), Barry Kitson (artist). 1998.

At the end of the 90s (a pretty dark decade for superhero fare), the JLA experienced a refreshing, back-to-basics dusting-off at the hands of Grant Morrison. Waid and Augustyn’s Year One provided an extensive, complex story that explained why the characters running around in Morrison’s JLA mattered. Year One is a  well-crafted (solid and ornamental) bridge between the Silver Age and Modern Age—one that hadn’t really existed before it.

Batman: Hush (Batman #608-619). Jeph Loeb (writer) and Jim Lee (artist). 2002-2003.

The story isn’t that great. It’s an interesting mystery full of false leads and force-shock twists, but it’s somewhat forgettable after it’s over. The real reason we bought Hush was to see Jim Lee draw the hell out of Batman’s full rogues gallery. Even if you hated Lee’s work in the 90s because it represented everything that nearly killed a genre, you had to be impressed with the scope and scale he brought to this project.

Superman: For Tomorrow (Superman #204-215). Brian Azzarello (writer) and Jim Lee (artist). 2004-2005.

This book gets a bum rap. It is pretty complex, but Azzarello’s writing on this isn’t as bad as most of the reviews would have you believe. For Tomorrow is a pretty interesting geopolitical narrative that exposes some of Superman’s limitations and ethical dilemmas. The project isn’t the enormous showcase project that Hush was, but Lee’s art is still strong in this story. Actually, it’s probably stronger because it’s not a series of character pinups.

Solo #1-12. Various Artists: Tim Sale, Richard Corben, Paul Pope, Howard Chaykin, Darwyn Cooke, Jordi Bernet, Michael Allred, Teddy Kristiansen, Scott Hampton, Damon Scott, Sergio Aragones, Brendan McCarthy. 2004-2006.

This one’s a cheat. Each issue features a separate creator. But it’s one of the best projects DC has ever put together from a purely experimental and creative perspective. Solo was a brilliant book that, in theory (not in commercial fact) should have lasted for years.

All-Star Superman #1-12. Grant Morrison (writer) and Frank Quitely (artist). 2006-2008.

Like Watchmen, this book has received almost universal acclaim. It’s the definitive Superman story—not just of the modern age, but of any age. Anyone looking to understand the character has to start with this book, and the twelve issues it took to tell the story brilliantly used the periodical narrative form (despite delays in the bi-monthly schedule).

The Spirit #1-12. Darwyn Cooke (writer/artist) and J. Bone (inker). 2006-2008.

No one has so clearly and effectively channeled Will Eisner’s creative sensibilities (humor, style, and craft) as Cooke did in this run. The book continued after Cooke left with issue #12 and featured many great industry talents, but no one understood the character (in this time) quite like Cooke did. This is the definitive modern Spirit story and probably won’t be replicated.

Wednesday Comics #1-12. Various writers and artists. 2009.

Another cheat. This is an anthology book featuring numerous creators, but almost all of the comments I made about Solo above apply to this book as well. It was an impressive creative and experimental achievement whose results lived up to its ambitions.

Power Girl #1-12. Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Amanda Conner (artist). 2009-2010.

Crap. It was a good idea, but now I’m depressed again. I’m going to miss this one.

 

A COUPLE THAT SLIPPED UNDER THE RADAR:

The Hacker Files #1-12. Lewis Shiner (writer), Tom Sutton and Mark Buckingham (artists). 1992-1993.

Hard Time #1-12. Steve Gerber (writer) and Brian Hurtt (artist). 2004-2005.

 

A FEW MISSES:

Black Canary v2 #1-12. Sarah E. Byam (writer), Trevor von Eeden and Bob Smith (artists). 1993.

If you like female mullets and flat-tops, this is your thing. This book was a sign of things to come in the 90s–in all the worst possible ways.

Manhunter v2 #1-12. Steven Grant (writer) and Vince Giarrano (artist). 1994-1995.

Richard Dragon #1-12. Chuck Dixon (writer) and Scott McDaniel (artist). 2004-2005.

 

OTHER NOTABLES:

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