Shiny Shelf


DC Universe Presents #34

By Mark Clapham on 01 November 2010

Earth 2 cover, because I can't find the actual comic's cover online. Promotion much, Titan? Some of the first comics I read were UK reprints of American comics: Captain America comics, if I remember rightly, reprinted in black and white on the same size and stock paper as British comics like the (just relaunched) ‘Dandy’.

Later, I read the long-running ‘Return of the Jedi’ weekly, with its baffling back-up strips including the adaptation of ‘For Your Eyes Only’, and later still the now very well-remembered UK ‘Transformers’ comic, notable for having original material as ‘filler’ between US strips that was, well, a lot better than the primary source material.

Of course, as a child I had absolutely no idea that some of this material was homegrown and the rest was reprint, and in the case of the back-up strips cheaply acquired reprint at that. In my teens I started reading US imports, discovered comic shops, and generally doomed myself to writing stuff like this forever.

But UK reprints of US material still appear in US newsagents. Most prominent lately has been the Titan magazine ‘CLiNT’, which is mostly made up of creator owned material written by Mark Millar but also has one new strip, some articles and celebrity photo covers. I’m not sure who ‘CLiNT’ is aimed at, I just know it isn’t me, so I didn’t buy it.

The majority of reprint titles are more conventional comics material reprinted by Panini, who put out Marvel reprints, and Titan, who reprint DC stuff. The presentation is a lot closer to the original US comics than it was in my day: the books are US format, with card covers, and the comics are full colour and printed on paper stock that’s only a step down from the US originals.

What these titles may lack slightly in production quality and speed of reprinting (the stories tend to be a good year or two old), they make up for in sheer cheapness, with each issue reprinting three-US-issues worth of material for just under three quid, roughly the price of a single imported issue. That’s not bad value at all, and as I now live a long way from my old comic shop and don’t have the income I used to, quite a tempting proposition.

The latest of these titles is ‘DC Universe Presents’, although as the high issue number indicates to a certain extent it’s not a new title at all, rather a re-branding of ‘Superman Legends’. Presumably this continuity is for either licensing or subscription purposes, as to all intents and purposes this is a new title: ‘Legends’ was reprinting ‘New Krypton’ era Superman stories back-to-back, while ‘DCUP’ showcases a slightly odder range of material.

On one level, you’ve got both star writers of the current DCU here, with the bulk of the issue reprinting the work of Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns.

Latter first. Two thirds of this issue comes from Johns’ recent revamps of the silver age versions of Green Lantern and The Flash. Focusing on these two makes sense from a brand-building perspective, as there’s a Green Lantern movie in production and The Flash is expected to get the Hollywood treatment right after. These are characters that media-savvy readers who aren’t necessarily big comics readers may be aware of and wish to know better, and conveniently the material here very effectively (re)introduces them.

What we get this issue is part one of a revised origin story for Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern (called ‘Secret Origin’, unsurprisingly), while the Flash gets a bunch of odds-and-sods (a short strip and some maps and profiles) from a ‘Secret Files & Origins’ special that acts as a bluffer’s guide to Barry Allen, the once-dead now current Flash.

The former is inevitably a bit more satisfying, with a solid story and equally solid art from Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert adn Randy Mayor. The story clips along through Hal’s early life in a fairly entertaining way without ever dragging, but there’s little that sticks in the mind. Scott Kolins’ art on the main Flash strip has a bit more flare, and Johns writes in a couple of clever moments into a stock ‘explain character then throw in cliffhanger’ teaser story, but the profiles feel a bit like homework even when they’re this well illustrated.

There are common threads in the re-envisioning of Hal and Barry, both characters invented in the 1950s, superseded by successor heroes in the late 80s/early 90s, then revived and returned to the spotlight by Johns in the last few years. Johns’ background pre-comics is in Hollywood, and in reworking these two fairly simplistic characters he’s woven in the kind of straightforward motivation you’d expect in a big action movie or mainstream TV show, defining childhood tragedies that effect the characters adult lives and shape their relationships with other family members.

You can see why this would be considered a good tack to take – after all, the three most successful superheroes of all time all have lost parents as defining tragedies – but put so close together there’s something very mechanical about the death of Hal’s father and the murder or Barry’s mother, a certain off-the-peg quality to these origin stories.

There’s also a jarring bluntness to the use of violent events in these strips, one which rubs uncomfortably against the embracing of the very colourful nature of the lead characters. There’s a persistent sense that Johns wants to have his cake and eat it – to return comics to some arcadian 50s utopia where best pals in bright red or green costumes had wacky adventures against themed villains and pink aliens, but to then layer on a dose of canned ‘maturity’ in the form of gruesome serial killings and ramblings on the nature of grief.

After all this conscious reviving of 50s tropes, it’s instructive to flick back to the first strip in the book, which dates all the way back to 2000, before Johns and cohorts had dragged large sections of the DCU back to some 50s/60s ‘ideal’.

Re-reading the first chapter of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s ‘Earth 2′, split into five parts here but originally published as a standalone graphic novel, feels like a dizzying return to a heady time. The Justice League includes Kyle Rayner, and a bearded Aquaman with a hook for a hand! There are solidly traditional elements here: Batman and Superman are as they ever were, and at the time the use of Lex Luthor’s green armour was a retro flourish rather than something he wore every second appearance.

Nonetheless it does feel like a step back into a DCU less burdened with history, and reading it invokes an odd kind of nostalgia, one for a period when nostalgia was an optional rather than editorially enforced part of the DC Comics experience.

Anyway, even broken up for serialisation in a fairly crude way (the cliffhanger here is the opening of a cupboard), ‘Earth 2′ remains a great story, full of Morrison’s big ideas and delightful little flourishes: the KKK airliner from the titular parallel Earth, for instance, or the way that even a ‘good’ version of Lex Luthor remains an arrogant dick (‘My dear country cousin, you are human. I am Luthor’.) Looking back, Quitely’s art is a little lacking in character nuance compared to the heights he reached on ‘All-Star Superman’, but this is still stellar work.

For some reason I never got around to buying ‘Earth 2′ at the time, and so I’m on board for the first five issues of ‘DCUP’ for that alone, with the chance to catch up on some competent, defining stories from more recent DC Comics an added bonus.

Whether I stick around after that depends on what they choose to reprint – presumably something else Justice League related so that they can include more famous DCU faces alongside the Flash and Green Lantern, although ‘Earth 2′ will be a very hard act to follow.

For now, if you’ve never read ‘Earth 2′ (or fancy revisiting it) I highly recommend buying this comic: £2.95 for 20 pages of great comics, plus another 40 pages of quite good comics, is a pretty good deal all round. ‘DC Universe Presents’ #34 is on sale now, with #35 due out on 25 November, so there’s a good three weeks to grab it.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




2 Responses

  1. Jim Smith says:

    By “for some reason” you mean “It was twenty quid and I could read Jim’s” right?

  2. Mark Clapham says:

    Yeah, strangely enough I didn’t think anyone would be particularly interested in that detail.