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By | Monday, February 11, 2013 | 5:17 pm | 5 Comments | Blog > Essays

I first started collecting comics during the summer of 2006. The first issues I started buying were 52 and the main Bat titlesBatman, Detective Comics, and Legends of the Dark Knight. It was an interesting time to try to get into comics, particularly the DC Universe, because 52 was basically a bridge between two Crisis events – Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis. Trying to dive in head first at that time was rather daunting, which is why I really appreciated the History of the DC Universe backup story that ran from Week 2 until Week 11.

As the weeks went by and I gradually started adding in titles like Action Comics, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Justice League of America, I began to wonder what came before. I wanted to know “the whole story.” I didn’t see it as me being suckered in, I saw it as me wanting to be a more informed reader. I felt it would enhance my enjoyment of the current stories. A good friend of mine, who had been collecting comics since he was a kid, told me that I would go crazy (and broke) trying to fill in all of the back story. He never said it wasn’t necessary, just that it would be too difficult.

That is when my huge inner debate began. “Do I need to read all of these stories?” I started posting all over the internet: “What should I read first?” “Where do I begin?” “What do I need to know?” The answers I got suggested to me that there was definitely more than one camp on this issue. I ended up just going with what felt best to me – reading what I could get my hands on and not worrying if I didn’t.

Fast forward about six years, to October 2012, when CBR posted in their Robot 6 blog a story titled “Mythology vs. Narrative.”  The post was in response to a recent podcast interview on www.SlashFilm.com with Rian Johnson, writer and director of the film Looper. (You can listen to the 1 hour 40 minute podcast here.  It’s very good, but it contains many spoilers on the film, so if you haven’t seen Looper yet, I strongly urge you not to listen.) About 1 hour and 30 minutes into the interview, Johnson was asked about the potential for a sequel. In response, he says “…Even if you do feel like you want to see more of it, do you really want to see more of it? Do you really want to see the stuff that right now are mysteries in our heads? … I think there is something powerful to it being mythology rather than having it be narrative.”

I don’t think there is a definitive answer to this question. It all depends on the person, their interest level, and their time and budget. I also think that opinions on this can vary from genre to genre. When reading a novel, the reader has to imagine how each of the characters looks and sounds. We are given clues to these things, but it is still up to the reader. The author can flesh out various plot points while giving small references to others. Because of the dependence on imagination, there are no limits as to what can happen in a particular story.

It is only slightly different with comic books. As we go from panel to panel, issue to issue, trade to trade, our mind has to fill in the flow of the story. We know what the characters look like and we know the main plot points and dialogue, but we are not given everything. Even within a single issue or trade volume. The action skips around and references are made to “off-screen” events.

Finally, in a film, very little is left to the imagination. At least as it pertains to the specific story being told. When we watch Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and we first hear a reference to “The Clone Wars,” we can use our imagination to figure out what that could have been about, but the details are not a necessary plot point of that particular movie, so the story moves past it.

As far as comic book reading, I think it is safe to say that those of us on this site want to know “the whole story.” That’s why we’re here. Whether we want to read every DC trade or we only want to read the post-crisis stuff, we all have a general desire to not only read the back story but to read it in some kind of accepted order. I (and others) don’t just want to imagine how the multiverse came about (and became so unwieldy so as to require Crisis on Infinite Earths), I want to read those stories. I want to see the progression of the characters and story lines so I can hopefully understand what happened and why. While it can be fun to leave things to the imagination, it can also be enjoyable to actually read these stories.

In addition to reading comics, one of my main areas of interest is film. The first film class I took was on the Western. The class started in January 1993, five months after Unforgiven had been released and just as all of its Oscar buzz was gathering. I learned a great deal in that class. Not just about the Western, but about film and storytelling in general. Towards the end of the semester, we watched John Ford’s 1962 film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, starring John Wayne, James Stewart, and Lee Marvin. The movie is perhaps best known for the following two lines of dialogue: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” One of the best explanations of this quote I’ve read was written by James Berardinelli on his website www.ReelViews.net:

That single quote, uttered by newspaperman Maxwell Scott (Carlton Young), encapsulates the primary theme of John Ford’s last great Western… Truth is only meaningful as long as it agrees with what the public wants to hear. When heroes don’t exist, it is necessary to invent them. And, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. A clear-eyed deconstruction would likely reveal that what most of us accept as “history” is a patchwork of real events, exaggerations, and tales so tall that Paul Bunyan would likely blink in amazement…. The film’s point is simple: history is as much legend as fact. Shocking as it may sound, George Washington could tell a lie. And there never was an address for “Camelot” on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.”

The fun thing about comic books is that fact and legend can be the same thing. My favorite comic book character has always been Batman and I am a huge fan of Collin Colsher’s website www.TheRealBatmanChronologyProject.com.  Like Ian has done here, Collin has spent hours upon hours trying to put stories that probably weren’t meant to be placed in any kind of order into a coherent chronology. One of the great difficulties a project like that has is deciphering what is canon and what isn’t.

And therein lies the fun. When I go to my local shop each week, I don’t simply go to pick up my books. I go to talk to my friends. No matter what topic we start off discussing, we inevitably get around to debating things like who is Batman’s number one criminal (Joe Chill?) or why is Marvel “ruining” Wolverine and whether or not movies like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises are good for the industry. We love going back and forth on why we love the characters we love and hate the characters we hate. Sometimes these discussions amongst friends can get pretty heated. But we keep coming back for more.

There’s no real right or wrong answer to these topics. There’s an argument to be made for each and every side. Some may read that and think “Well then, what’s the point in discussing?” The point is that it matters to the individual. And the same can be said about this whole “Mythology vs. Narrative” question. There’s a place for both aspects in this passion of ours, as well as in movies and other forms of entertainment. I do still get caught up in the whole “what should I be reading” debate.

But I try to remind myself that I read these books because I enjoy it. And if I have the time and ability to go back and read the Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex books I will. But I’m not going to beat myself up over it because reading the current All Star Western series has been fun in and of itself.

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By | Sunday, February 10, 2013 | 7:58 pm | 1 Comment | Blog > Reviews
 
Find This Book At:
Ebay (Search by Title)
Ebay (ISBN)
Half.com
Amazon
View our database entry
Includes Issues: Loveless 1 – 5
Creators:
Brian Azzarello, Marcello Frusin

This review is spoiler-free! Skip To The Verdict? »

Westerns are by nature stories of simpler times. Even the with the simplified character sets of the terrific Jonah Hex books, it is a formula which has withstood the test of time and continues to work to this day in the hand of a skilled writer.

Azzarello isn’t a man who settles for simplicity and this is evident in his Loveless series. But does he manage to pull it off?

The long and short of it is yes, for a time. After all, he is one of the industry’s elite writers and he knows how to write complex characters better than anyone else in the business.

It is 1867, two years after the end of the American Civil War, and things are anything but simple down in Blackwater, Southern Virginia when Wes Cutter appears back on the scene.

Cutter, an ex-confederate soldier, has just been released from a prison camp and is finally heading home, much to the annoyance of the locals. His good-for-nothing brother had spread the word that he died in the camp, which predicated certain changes in the town.

Specifically, his land was seized by the now Union controlled local government and his wife forcibly evicted from it. Cutter isn’t the kind of guy who lets things like that go and he has a plan of bloody redemption figured out for all of those who wronged him and his wife.

As a side-story we have the tale of a young Black soldier in the Union army who shoots a white crippled boy dead– not a smart thing for a Black man to do in a Southern state during this period of time.

His story deals with the still present tension between the North and the South, with an eye on the darker side of American history.

Those of you who are familiar with Azzarello’s other works wont be surprised to hear that the plot twists and turns through the dark under-bellies of life without ever revealing the full extent of what is going on to the reader.

It is a tried and tested formula he uses and it works once again here, but at times it can be quite hard to follow what is going on; it is one of those books that you appreciate more on the second reading.

In a direct comparison of Azzarello’s 100 Bullets to Loveless: Bullets is a better series on the whole, but this series starts off much stronger.

The art is handled by Marcelo Frusin (Hellblazer) similar in style to Eduardo Risso, (100 Bullets). Given images from each artist, it would be difficult to tell them apart.

The artwork is characterized by simple colours and shapes, and the real story is told through the use of the shadows. This allows characters not in play to remain as eerie, lurking shadows in the background until they are ready for their dramatic reveal.

My only issue with the art is that it makes people hard to tell apart sometimes if the faces are drawn with too much shadow over them, such as when they are wearing hats– which, as a Western, is a common problem.

On the whole this a is very good book of the standard we have come to expect from Azzarello, if not necessarily Earth-moving. Worth a read, but only if it’s not at too dear a price.

Verdict:
A strong 4 out of 5. We wouldn’t expect any less from our friend Brian.

Essential Continuity:
Not essential for DC, or even DC Westerns but essential for Loveless.

Read first:
Azzarello was quoted saying that El Diablo planted the seeds for this series; while not essential for the series, it might be a nice read to get yourself in the mood for this volume.

Read next:
You can pick up the other two trades in the series, Thicker Than Blackwater and Blackwater Falls; the first of which is as strong as this one, although the later sadly is not.

If you liked the pacing, you could pick up the first volume of 100 Bullets.

Or if you just want more western fun you could give Jonah Hex a go but don’t expect as complex tale from him.

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By | Thursday, February 7, 2013 | 3:37 pm | 6 Comments | Blog > Reviews
 

Find This Book At:
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Amazon
View our database entry
Includes Issues: Life With Archie 13-18
Creators:
Fernando Ruiz, Paul Kupperberg

This review contains minor spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

Archie Andrews is Spider-Man.

Actually, let me rephrase that.  Archie Andrews is Peter Parker.

Actually, no, that’s not quite it, either.  Archie: The Married Life is Spider-Man without the super-heroics.

Archie books are normally seen as the quintessential disposable comic.  They are the opposite of the “NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME” fanfare: no matter how many decades pass, Archie will be the everyman teen living an unremarkable life in small town America with his high school chums, and forever undecided when it comes to which girl he’d actually like to go steady with.  It therefore came as a bit of a shock when Archie Comics began publishing Life With Archie, a magazine-style title with ongoing stories set in Archie’s near future—it feels a core paradigm or three had been violated.

For two volumes, The Married Life, as this particular subbrand is called, has followed two parallel stories, set in universes defined by Archie’s choice marry either Betty or Veronica, as well as a host of other, not-directly-related differences.  In them, the cast all deals with young adulthood and finds out it wasn’t at all what they expected it to be. Chuck Clayton and Nancy Woods deal with the pressures of owning a comic book shop that isn’t as successful as they hoped it’d be.  Reggie Mantle has no idea what to do with his life and settles for a job as a reporter, and finds out that he likes it; along the way, he begins a romance with Veronica.  Kevin Keller gets injured while fighting in the Middle East, while Jughead deals with the pressure of suddenly owning a multi-million dollar restaurant chain.  In one universe, Moose runs for the office of mayor of Riverdale; in another, he’s a handyman at his old high school.  In one universe, Mr. Weatherbee and Mrs. Grundy realize their love for one another and tie the knot, only for her to succumb to not-explicitly-identified-as-cancer not long after.

Basically, its life, presented in a way that while still distinctively Archie—it still feels escapist and wholesome and optimistic, and a bit tone deaf—it still feels far more honest than anything the big two would deign to publish now.  It reminds me a lot of the pre-nineties Spider-Man comics, where Peter would combine web-swinging with dropping out of college, Harry Osbourne would be doing drugs, and Mary Jane would be that carefree party girl who is secretly very sad beneath it all.  It’s just like that, except, you know, without the people wearing costumes destroying New York.

And yet, that’s not quite accurate either, because as much as The Married Life is about regular, mundane life, it has also been dropping hints from the beginning that the two different universes are more linked than they would initially seem. In this third volume, things come to a head, as the connection between the worlds is expanded upon and the machinations of the closest thing the series has to antagonists threaten to destroy the Archie Multiverse, with the only thing standing in their way being…Mr. Lodge, Veronica’s plutocrat father.

(Well, he’s not the only one–but, you know, spoilers.)

In any case, the combination of the two elements makes for a far more intriguing comic than it would have been without either.  In any other comic, the end of the world and characters with honest-to-gosh superpowers would be the equivalent of a forty-degree day—to paraphrase Stringer Bell, nobody would have anything to say about them.  Here, they give the slice-of-life goings-on of the characters a ting of excitement and danger that turns the book from what could have potentially become Melrose Place circa season 1 and into something more akin to Melrose Place season 2 and 3.

Oh, and this is also the volume with Kevin Keller’s wedding.

Archie comics have always been, if not exactly conservative, then at least persistently concerned about being inoffensive.  While this has sometimes ironically made them incredibly offensive—Chris Sims describes here how a black love interest for Betty had his skin color lightened in 2008, because it allegedly made him more palatable—it also means that any change towards more diversity comes with an implicit message: this is harmless.  This is inoffensive.  So when this volume devotes two of its stories to the wedding of  Kevin and physical therapist Clay Walker, it feels significant.  It’s still rather incredibly daring—it’s the first same-sex wedding in mainstream comics, in a product that is still seen as being for kids—while making the argument that it really shouldn’t be.

This being Archie, there are no surprises when it comes to art.  While there are some differences between pencillers Fernando Ruiz (Veronica-verse) and Pat & Tim Kennedy (Betty-verse) they still fall neatly into the long-established Archie house style.   While they’re both acceptable, I prefer Ruiz, whose style, while less distinctive, feels cleaner.

Perhaps it’s because it’s been a good long while since I was one, but I never quite believed that Archie comics actually spoke to teenagers, despite its cast.  However, as someone who is currently the same age as these older versions of the characters, and who has gone through the same highs and lows and periods of crushing self-doubt combined with the occasional realization that oh my god this is adulthood why did no one tell me?, I appreciate the heck out of what Archie Publishing is doing with this book. It’s good stuff, even for people who aren’t fans of the publisher’s regular fare.

Verdict:
While it doesn’t reach quite the heights of previous volumes, it’s more of the same, “the same” being on the whole quite good.  4 out of 5.

Essential Continuity:
Yes, as this is the volume when one finally gets answers to questions posed since the beginning.

Read first:
The first two volumes, which give you some essential context, such as the reason why Veronica-verse Archie and Veronica are separated.

Read next:
Some of the great Spider-Man runs.  I recommend Roger Stern’s The Amazing Spider-Man (224–227, 229–252), some of which is collected in books like Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin.

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By | Wednesday, February 6, 2013 | 8:10 pm | 1 Comment | Blog > Features

Hi everyone! Lee T. here with a list of new releases.

This is by no means a complete and irrefutable list of what is coming out this month, nor is it intended to be.  It’s just to give TRO readers an idea of where to begin their hunt.

This is my first column for TRO, so, if anyone has any suggestions or comments please feel free to leave them, (column is too long, too short, someone who knows what they’re talking about should write it, etc).

Please keep in mind release dates are subject to change and you should always check with your retailer of choice before demanding your copy.  Also, all titles are paperback unless otherwise noted and the suggested retail price is just that: suggested.

Without further ado and absolutely no fanfare we begin!

MARVEL

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA – THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION

In a month that is filled (and I mean right to the brim) with collected editions from Marvel this is by far one of the coolest.  Who doesn’t love watching our heroes die?  And this was one spectacular way to go.  I love anything with complete, ultimate, omnibus or library in the title and to get the death of Cap all rolled in to one fantastic little package is pretty great.

SRP: 39.99

Contains:  Captain America (2005)  #22-42, Winter Soldier: Winter Kills

Chapters, Amazon – Feb. 19th

Things From Another World, My Comic Shop – Feb. 6th

 

MARVEL NOIR: WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN

These sorts of things can either be fun and mildly diverting entertainment shedding new light on old aspects or they can be terrible and make you feel deep despair like you’ve never known.  I enjoyed the Noir take on Spider-Man and I feel like some of the X-Men characters could be adapted quite well to an urban 30‘s and 40‘s setting.

SRP:  34.99

Contains: X-Men Noir #1-4, Wolverine Noir #1-4, X-Men Noir: Mark Of Cain #1-4 and Weapon X Noir #1.

Chapters, Amazon – March 12th

Things From Another World, My Comic Shop – Feb. 27th

 

Avengers vs. Thanos

AVENGERS VS. THANOS

Well, it’s no shock that this came out, but, it does seem a little premature and probably would have been better timed to coincide with the release of either the Guardians Of The Galaxy movie or The Avengers 2.  Unlike most of these “released to capitalize off a movie” trades, this one is supposed to tell the life story of Thanos through his various appearances and battles, which is a cool idea.  Hopefully it actually does it.

SRP: 34.99

Contains: Over 450 pages of various comics mostly from the late 60‘s and early 70‘s

Amazon, Chapters – March 5th

Things From Another World, My Comic Shop – Feb. 20th

 

AVENGING SPIDER-MAN: THE GOOD, THE GREEN AND THE UGLY

Essentially this looks like a book of team-ups featuring Spider-Man with help from She-Hulk, Captain Marvel (apparently the new one) and Deadpool…..ya, Deadpool.  Weird, but, if you can handle the insane amount of one-liners and bad jokes that would be spewing forth between the two of them then it could be an entertaining couple of issues.

SRP: 16.99

Contains: Avenging Spider-Man (2011) 7, 9-10, 12-13

Chapters, Amazon – March 5

Things From Another World, My Comic Shop – Feb. 20

 

DC

 

BATMAN: THE NIGHT OF THE OWLS (HC)

The follow up to The Court Of Owls promises to be an epic done in the style of the great Bat Sagas, (No Man’s Land; Knightfall; Bruce Wayne – Fugitive).  The issues collected here feature Red Robin, Batwing, Batgirl, the Birds of Prey, Nightwing, Catwoman (and the list goes on) with all of their respective stories coming together as a whole.  Can’t wait.  

SRP: 29.99

Contains: One or two issues from all the major and secondary Bat Books totalling 360 pages of awesome

Chapters, Amazon – Feb. 19

Things From Another World, My Comic Shop – Feb. 13

 

GREEN ARROW: SALVATION

I like DC’s events in all their twisting, convoluted glory and this newest volume of Star City’s emerald defender is a tie-in to Brightest Day.  There really isn’t much more that needs to be said about it.  If you liked Brightest Day you’ll want to add this to the collection.  Ditto if you just like Oliver Queen.  Either way 200 pages for 17 bucks is a pretty solid deal.

SRP: 16.99

Contains: Green Arrow (2010) 8-15

Chapters, Amazon – Feb. 19

Things From Another World, My Comic Shop – Feb. 13

 

THE NEW DEADWARDIANS

Published through their Vertigo line for older readers this book just looks plain odd.  A kind of combination of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and those Seth-Graeme Smith books that have been so popular of late, this book is about a detective solving murders in post-Victorian England.  The catch is that the lower class have all become zombies and the upper class have voluntarily become vampires to separate themselves.  Weird?  Yes.  Intriguing?  A resounding yes.

SRP: 14.99

Contains: All 8 issues of the mini-series by Dan Abnett

Chapters, Amazon – Feb. 12

Things From Another World, My Comic Shop – Feb. 6

 

VOODOO VOL. 2: THE KILLER IN ME

I’ve gotta say, in the spirit of honesty, I’m not very up to date on my New 52.  It’s not because I don’t want to be, I just don’t have the money to be keeping up on all these books.  One day in the distant future I will have them all and I will revel in their glory, but, until that day I’ll have to live vicariously through you guys.  I know Voodoo is an old character being brought back and I know she is ambiguous in that she isn’t sure whether she’s a villain or a hero and I love that kind of tension.  Will she or won’t she?  This will definitely be a book I check out at some point.

SRP: 14.99

Contains: Voodoo 7-12, 0

Chapters, Amazon – Feb. 26

Things From Another World, My Comic Shop – Feb. 20

 

INDIES

 

G.I. JOE: THE IDW COLLECTION VOL. 1 (HC)

Originally slated to come out at the end of next month this 350 page hardcover has been pushed back until sometime this month.  Hopefully it actually comes out as it’s supposed to feature writing by Chuck Dixon and that’s always a good thing.  Make note that this has all ready been delayed once and may be delayed again so the dates that follow are just an estimate.

Publisher: IDW   

SRP: 49.99

Contains: 352 pages of GI Joe action starting with Origins and, presumably, moving forward.

Chapters, Amazon – Feb. 26

Things From Another World, My Comic Shop – Feb. 13

 

AVATAR THE LAST AIRBENDER: THE PROMISE – LIBRARY EDITION (HC)

Written by the show’s creators and Gene Luen Yang this story picks up directly after the series finale.  Apparently the peace that we saw at the close of Avatar is tenous and Fire Lord Zuko is at odds with Earth King Kuei.  I’m sure it will be up to Aang, Kitara and Soka to stop them and since they’re friends with Zuko now I doubt it will be very cut and dry.  Normally this kind of thing wouldn’t interest me, but, with the show’s creators at the helm it’s a perfect opportunity for those of us who miss the show to get something new while we wait for Legend Of Korra to start up again.

Publisher: Dark Horse

SRP: 39.99

Contains: The first 3 graphic novels put out by Dark Horse

Chapters, Amazon – March 5th

Things From Another World, My Comic Shop – Feb. 20

 

SUPER DINOSAUR VOL. 3

A T-Rex who plays video games and the 10 year old boy who loves him… ok?  Oh, and they fight bad guys and stop evil plans and stuff… double ok?  If it didn’t have Robert Kirkman’s name attached for writing duties a lot of people probably wouldn’t have bothered with this, but, it is Kirkman and he has a fairly strong track record.  This and the Astounding Wolf-Man are definitely on my pull list if even just to read something different and odd, emphasis on odd.  Side note: this may be delayed as well since My Comic Shop doesn’t have it listed and issue 17 is supposed to drop the same day as the trade.  Huh.  That’s a new one.

Publisher: Image Comics

SRP: 12.99

Contains: Super Dinosaur 12-17

Chapters, Amazon – Mar. 5

Things From Another World – Feb. 20

 

MARS ATTACKS VOL. 1: ATTACK FROM SPACE

Apparently this is an all-new take on the Mars Attacks universe that promises to be just as gonzo as the original if not more so.  Having John Layman of Chew fame at the helm should help ensure that it stays weird and bloody.  The art looks to be solid and while this book probably won’t change the landscape of comics forever I have a feeling it will be pretty entertaining.  You know, if you’re in to that sort of thing.

Publisher: IDW

SRP: 19.99

Contains: Probably the first 5 or 6 issues (can’t get a definitive list, sorry)

Chapters, Amazon – Feb. 26

Things From Another World, My Comic Shop – Feb. 13

 

That’s it!

Hopefully you’re excited about some of these books. What are you looking forward to the most?

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By | Tuesday, February 5, 2013 | 6:44 am | 8 Comments | Blog > Essays


Whether it’s Super FriendsJustice League, or The New 52, there’s nothing like a premise which unites all of DC Comics’ most popular superheroes to make startlingly clear that other than a thirst for justice, there is one other thing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, and Hal Jordan all have in common: every single one of them is white. This, of course, is when a Black Vulcan, a John Stewart, or even a Cyborg is drafted by the writers in an attempt to dismiss this uncomfortable realization, and such has largely been the role of the Black Superhero for decades. Out of the hundreds of characters in the DC stable, my research has warranted that only fifteen Black men and women have ever lent their likeness to the lead role of a comic. Let’s take a look at the timeline:

 1977: Black Lightning

The 1970s were by any measure an interesting decade for portrayal of Black men in Western media. America was listening to Sweet Sweetback sing his Badasssss Song, meeting the man called MISTER Tibbs, and learning just who was the cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about (talkin’ bout Shaft). To be sure, this was the brief window in time where the short-lived “Blaxploitation” genre was sweeping the country. And, of course, DC took advantage. With his low cut v-neck and jive-talking dialogue, Black Lightning (Jefferson Pierce) was a hero who could have only been devised in the seventies. Unfortunately for Jefferson, the infamous 1978 DC Implosion came only a year later and took most of DC’s ongoing titles with it, including this one only eleven issues into its run. The series was never collected as a trade.

1992: Green Lantern Mosaic

 14 years pass after Black Lightning falls victim to the implosion, and the world of Black leading men is just as silent as the decades of DC’s history which spanned before the seventies. But it was only by revisiting this period that DC earned its second Black-led title: John Stewart, Earth’s third Green Lantern, first appeared in 1971 in the now classic socially conscious series, Green Lantern / Green Arrow. Although Mosaic would never prove as popular as the series from which Stewart originated (to wit, it has never been collected in trade form), the series has gained a large cult following for its existential themes, dealing with not only what it meant to be a Black man, but to be human at all.  The series must have gone over the heads of the editors, though, as it was cancelled after a mere 18 issues. Black Lightning may have been the first superhero with his own book, but John Stewart was the first to be cast in a role independent of his race. John would later go on to gain popularity as the Green Lantern in Bruce Timm’s Justice League cartoon, but would never again have his own title.

1994: Steel

Any discussion of Superman in the nineties will inevitably begin with the Death of Superman arc. Readers everywhere were shocked to see DC’s most iconic character killed off — and yet, the title which bore his name would not be cancelled. Enter the Reign of the Supermen: not one, but four men rose to take Superman’s place. One of these men was John Henry Irons, the hammer wielding hero we would come to know as Steel. When the original Superman finally returned to life, as comic book heroes are wont to do, Steel packed his bags and moved back to his hometown of Washington DC, where he dealt more with gang violence, drug abuse, and pressing issues of inner city youth culture at the time than radioactive aliens and evil robots. Steel has the proud distinction of carrying his  own book longer than any other Black character, for a total of 53 monthly issues. You can find his first story arc, collected with his initial appearances after the death of Superman, in Steel: The Forging of a Hero.

Black Lightning #1

1995: Black Lightning

Though it had been seventeen years since his last solo title, the unexpected success of Steel allowed DC to bring back its original Black superhero to his own title. This one didn’t fare much better than the last, though, clocking in at only thirteen uncollected issues.

Batman: Orpheus Rising #1

2001: Batman – Orpheus Rising

Superman has Steel. Green Lantern has John Stewart. So why was Batman’s entire sizable network of operatives as white as the driven snow? Enter Orpheus, as introduced in this uncollected 5 issue miniseries. Originally a professional dancer, Orpheus would become Batman’s man on the inside of the Hill Street Gang, steering them towards a positive direction from within. At least that was the case for three years, until he was killed off during the War Games story line. So it goes. Two more attempts would be made to give Batman a Black friend, but we’ll get to that later.

2004: Firestorm

After the original Firestorm was unceremoniously killed off in Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, DC took the opportunity to recast this powerful but largely ignored mainstay in their stable as Jason Rusch, a Detroit teenager from a broken home searching for a way out. Rusch’s quick wit and good humor has made him a fan favorite. Though his series was cancelled after 35 issues in 2007, Rusch has been an important character in his own right ever since, playing a major role in the Blackest Night and Brightest Day story lines — and finding his own title once again in The New 52. Firestorm’s post-Infinite Crisis arc, as covered in issues #23-27, is collected in trade form as Firestorm: The Nuclear Man Reborn.

2006: Infinite Crisis Aftermath — The Spectre

 Crispus Allen, one of the lead characters in Greg Rucka’s cult classic Gotham Central, met a tragic demise near the end of the series. No one ever really expected to ever see the character again — until this street level detective found a new life as one of the most powerful cosmic entities in the DC Universe, assuming the role of The Spectre from Hal Jordan and Jim Corrigan before him during Infinite Crisis. This short three issue miniseries profiles his early days on the job as the new Spirit of Vengeance. Since then, Crispus Allen has gone on to become a central figure to the greater DC Universe mythology. The miniseries is collected along with Tales of the Unexpected within the trade Infinite Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre.

2007: Connor Hawke — Dragon’s Blood

In 1994, Kelley Puckett engineered one of many shake-ups in the Green Arrow family dynamic by introducing Oliver Queen’s estranged son, Connor Hawke. Though Connor has only one Black grandparent, he has become an important figure within communities which champion heroes of color in comic books. For over thirty issues, Connor assumed the role of Green Arrow in Ollie’s series upon his temporary demise in an airplane explosion, but would not receive his own title until this limited six issue series. For his pacifist demeanor, uncompromising honesty, and ironic lack of proficiency in ranged weapons, Connor remains a favorite in many circles despite having been written entirely out of canon. Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood is collected here.

Vixen - Return of the Lion 1

2008: Cyborg, Vixen

Quiz Time: which Black character has appeared in the largest number of DC Comics? If you guessed any of the guys I talked about earlier in this article, you’d be wrong: that title belongs to Vic Stone, better known as Cyborg. Cyborg rose to fame as a charter member of the New Teen Titans in 1980, and remained with the group for decades to follow: he even went on to become one of the main characters in 2005’s popular Teen Titans animated series, and 2011 would see him finally graduate to the Justice League proper. Strangely enough, 2008’s six issue limited series Teen Titans Spotlight: Cyborg, an initiative which gave several members of the team their own solo stories, is the only one which bears his name.

2008 also brings us DC’s first ever black female lead in the form of Vixen in her five issue limited series, Vixen: Return of the Lion. Vixen was first introduced in 1981 as a solo crimefighter in Action Comics, but since then has split her time between the Justice League and the Suicide Squad. What sets her apart from the rest, though, is that of all fifteen of these title headers, Vixen- real name Mari Jiwe McCabe- is one of two who can call themselves a native African. Return of the Lion sees Vixen return to her roots as she comes home to her village for the first time since she began her spandex-clad adventures.

Azrael: Death's Dark Knight #1

2009: Azrael, Black Lightning, Tattooed Man

When most comic readers think of Azrael, they imagine the man who briefly assumed the role of Batman during the 1990s’ Knightfall story line. But in 2009, a new iteration of this character developed in ex-cop Michael Lane who finds himself as an instrument of righteous vengeance for the radical religious sect of the Order of St. Dumas. Introduced in his own miniseries, Azrael: Death’s Dark Knight, Michael Lane would go on that same year to begin his own ongoing series, the first for a Black character in five years, for 19 issues. His first ongoing arc is collected as Azrael: Angel in the Dark.

Since Frank Miller began the trend with Batman: Year One, the Year One franchise has become a popular device for exploring a character’s roots. 2009 sees the Year One miniseries treatment turned upon our old friend Black Lightning, who at this point had finally found new life as a central member of Batman’s Outsiders. For those interested in the roots of DC’s original Black leading man, Black Lightning: Year One is a must read.

Of course, the biggest thing going on in 2009 was Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis. Although today it is remembered as “that story where Batman kind of died but actually not really”, arguably the most interesting parts of the story were told from the perspective of Mark Richards, (barely) better known as the third iteration of the C-List Green Lantern villain Tattooed Man. As one of the few people on Earth left free of Darkseid’s Anti-Life Equation, this former US Marine turned hit man finds himself forced to answer the call of duty when the fate of humanity may rest in his hands. After the story climaxes in Batman’s showdown with Darkseid, the Tattooed Man’s subplot is left to be wrapped up in his own miniseries, Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink.

2011: The New 52

Readers with particularly long memories may have noticed some omissions from this list: namely, the heroes from DC’s Milestone, Vertigo, and WildStorm imprints. I consider them beyond the scope of this survey: if you have to be segregated into your own continuity to be a DC superhero, that’s really not much of a victory. However, DC’s New 52 initiative saw these three imprints folded into the main DC Comics brand — as such, we may now welcome the beloved Static and WildStorm’s Voodoo into the family. Well, briefly, anyway: as of now, both series have been cancelled.

2011 would also see the return of Jason Rusch to his own Firestorm title, as well as two newcomers to the leading man scene. Batwing, real name David Zavimbe, is a vigilante sponsored by Batman himself to mete out justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo as his mentor does in Gotham City. The other ongoing series features Mister Terrific, once the coordinator behind the JSA, before being cancelled 8 issues in and integrated as a cast member of the ongoing Earth 2 series.

Lately, many have criticized DC Comics for unfairly representing minorities within their publications, if at all. All evidence indicates that DC is making more of an effort than ever before, but they still have a long way to go. If you want to see progress though, as they say in the fan communities, you can always “vote with your money”. Try and hit your Local Comic Shop this Black History Month to purchase or request some of the trades below:

Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom
Batwing Vol. 2: In the Shadow of the Ancients (On Sale Apr 3, 2013)
The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men Vol. 1: The God Particle

The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men Vol. 2: The Firestorm Protocols (On Sale Jun 25, 2013)
Mister Terrific: Mind Games
Static Shock: Supercharged
Voodoo Vol. 1: What Lies Beneath
Voodoo Vol. 2: The Killer in Me

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