WonderCon Report: Keeping the ‘New’ in ‘The New 52’

By Kevin M. Brettauer

A common question found in many fan circles these days about DC Comics is, essentially, “How long can The New 52 be considered ‘new’?”. One could argue that the constant refreshing of title since the relaunch, seeing titles getting canceled and replaced with new books, helps inject a dose of freshness into the universe-wide reboot. The shuffling of creative teams doesn’t hurt that either, nor does the chance to tell new stories unburdened by decades of continuity. But at WonderCon 2013, the real answer becomes abundantly clear: the enthusiasm that the creators have for their projects is infectious to the point where they geek out almost as much as the fans do for the characters.

At the “DC: The New 52 Panel” on the second day of the convention, creators gathered to reveal a truckload of future plans to an excited audience. Writers Ann Nocenti, Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Kyle Higgins, John Layman, Jimmy Palmiotti, Brian Buccellato, Scott Lobdell and James Robinson were in attendance to spill the beans and tease what’s to come in the lives of characters like Batman, Superman, The Flash and Jonah Hex.

First up was Scott Snyder, writer of Batman and the upcoming Superman Unchained, who also just recently wrapped up a high-profile run on Swamp Thing. Addressing the impending “Zero Year” arc in his flagship Batman series, he promptly and effectively expressed the innate need for the story in the new DC Universe. As much as he loves Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: Year One story (indeed, that story served as a major influence on his first Batman storyline, the pre-New 52 “Black Mirror” saga in Detective Comics), he sadly realized that it just couldn’t have happened because of stories told since the reboot. The altered backstories of James Gordon, his son James Junior, and Catwoman helped Snyder to realize this, even though he admits that he tried to find a way to work Miller’s tale into the New 52. “It just didn’t work,” he sighs, claiming he “didn’t want to do anyone a disservice” by trying to shoehorn it into the new lore.

However, Snyder is extremely proud of his new take on the origin that’s set to unfold over the eleven-part “Zero Year”. Noting that it will be an “incredibly different…take on the origin,” even going so far as to say it’s “meant to be a punk rock” version of the character’s beginnings, he straightaway confirms the visual iconography will be different, that the iconic images of the Waynes’ corpses in the lamppost light and Martha Wayne’s falling pearls will be given a “nod”, but will not be forced into the story for old time’s sake. Additionally, Snyder notes readers will learn much more about the Wayne and Kane families than we’ve ever seen before, not to mention Batman’s rogue’s gallery and Gotham City itself.

 Assisting Snyder and regular artist Greg Capullo during “Zero Year” will be James Tynion IV, writer of Talon and soon replacing Scott Lobdell on Red Hood and the Outlaws. Tynion will be co-writing the back-ups with Snyder, drawn by Snyder’s American Vampire collaborator Rafael Albequerque. The back-ups will depict moments previously unseen from the neophyte Batman’s days of training. Snyder specifically noted, before dovetailing into his work with the other half of the World’s Finest team, that the training scenes will be devoid of both ninjas and Himalayan scenery.

Over in Superman Unchained, Snyder said, with a nervous chuckle, is telling “the Superman story I would tell if I only had one chance, which this very well may be.” He had nothing but praise for artist Jim Lee, also one of DC’s chief executives, explaining an extremely unorthodox four-page spread in the first issue. He notes that when he first saw the spread, he thought it was just one page and trusted Lee with the decision, but soon realized it would be a four-page fold-out, which completely blew the writer away. The story within the comic features “a lot about Lois, a lot about Lex” and, as in “Zero Year”, “a lot of stuff you haven’t seen.” Joining superstars Snyder and Lee in the new series is artist Dustin Nguyen, who will be drawing the Snyder-penned back-ups focusing on characters in the Man of Steel’s supporting cast such as Perry White, Lois Lane, Lana Lang and the residents of Smallville, Kansas.

Tynion then addressed that the current arc in Talon is rushing towards what he calls “a major climax”, with “plans going back to the original #0 issue coming to a head”. He has carefully placed all the pieces he needed on the board to make sure that by the end of the arc that “everything [series protagonist Calvin Rose] knows about his war on the Court [of Owls, a menacing secret society that Snyder introduced in the pages of Batman]” will be “shattered”. This will lead to what Tynion calls “a dangerous moment” for Calvin, as this happens just as the back-breaking Bane arrives on the scene, whose mythology the writer plans to “expand”. Snyder took the moment to address Tynion’s work with Bane, saying “it’s the coolest Bane thing I’ve ever seen”, with both writers expressing a mutual adoration for the character.

Over in Red Hood and the Outlaws, which Tynion inherits from outgoing writer Scott Lobdell this month, the rampant action-adventure is not going to let up just because of a creative shift. The book is “one of the few world-spanning adventures in the DCU”, the writer admits, noting that with Red Hood, Starfire and Arsenal that you can weave in disparate elements like “street stories, kung fu magic…cosmic craziness…real technologically-driven modern espionage-type stuff.” With that trio of characters, he says with a smile, “you can cover any type of story”, teasing that “major figures from all of their pasts” will soon be arriving in the series.

James Robinson, the acclaimed writer of Earth 2 and the recent The Shade mini-series, had a limited amount of time on the panel due to needing to catch a flight. During his introduction it was mentioned that the first hardcover volume of Earth 2, “The Gathering”, is in the top slot of the New York Times Bestselling Graphic Novels list, which was met with thunderous applause from the large amount of Earth 2 aficionados in the room. The upcoming #13 will not be drawn by regular artist Nicola Scott, giving her time to focus on meeting her usual high quality work without rushing out sub-par issues. The issue will see the introduction of Captain Steel (formerly Commander Steel and Citizen Steel) into the Earth-2 mythology. Captain Steel will, like The Atom, be one of the World Army Wonders. The cover of the issue depicts the hero descending into one of the fire pits left over from the Apokolips invasion that killed Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman years previously. Apparently, what happens to Captain Steel in the fire pits “lays the ground for” a big event at the end of 2014.

Robinson also notes that all of the elements of the Jack Kirby-inspired elements of the series (the fire pits, Steppenwolf, etc.) so far will tie together, mentioning that this month’s issue will unite Fury with a reintroduced Mister Miracle, as well as the previously-unteased New 52 debut of Big Barda, an announcement that was met rapturous joy by the assembled fans. He announced that Red Arrow will debut in issue #14 as a World Army Wonder, but explicitly didn’t mention if he would be Roy Harper, the original Red Arrow, or some other character.

Robinson took time to address that the May Earth 2 Annual #1 introduces the new Batman of Earth 2, whose costume was designed by cover artist Andy Kubert. The writer addressed fan concerns about the new Batman, whose identity he would not comment on save for that he will be someone intimately connected to the Batman mythology, saying that he will be “a real character [who is] not going anywhere,” going so far as to say that the character “will have a real impact in Earth 2 and the DCU as well”, implying, and not for the first time, that what sounds like a crossover between the two worlds is on the docket. And with, he bolted away to LAX faster than Earth 2 Flash Jay Garrick.

 

Kyle Higgins noted that the recent Nightwing #18 sets up a lot of what he’ll be doing with Dick Grayson over the next year, as the titular hero moves to Chicago to bring his parents’ killer, Tony Zucco, to justice after recently discovering the mobster was still alive. Higgins notes that Dick “has two pennies and a Nightwing costume to his name” after everything that’s gone on as a result of the first year and a half of his new series, culminating with the destruction of Amusement Mile at the hands of the Joker. The first Boy Wonder thinks that his time in Chicago will be a limited stay, but Higgins notes that won’t be the case, as Dick will discover that years ago there were superheroes in Chicago, but they’ve all apparently been murdered. This will lead Nightwing to try and find out who killed them and what happened to get to that point, noting that two characters in Brett Booth’s first cover are named The Ether and Ghost Walker. Higgins, who intends to “build a new world for Dick Grayson and for Nightwing”, says that it’s “an honor and a dream come true to write Dick Grayson,” who has been “his favorite character” since his early teenage years, remarking that “bring[ing] him into this new era has been a real thrill.”

Ann Nocenti was up next, commenting first on how it’s “really been a lot of fun to give [both] Katana and Catwoman” paths that seemingly contradict themselves in what the writer called a somewhat “schizophrenic” manner. She notes that both characters have a sort of weird “honor among thieves” that appeals to her, noting that they may in fact be the most unlikely members of the Justice League of America. Coming up in Catwoman, Selina Kyle will be sent to Arkham after an encounter with the Penguin, allowing the writer to explore new aspects of Gotham’s most notorious correctional facility. She also noted that there will be a three-issue gang war storyline starting in #21, going into the 2013 Catwoman Annual and culminating in #22. In Katana, which she notes is a “martial arts/superhero hybrid book”, the title character will travel to Japan and meet ancient warriors who train her just in time for an encounter with the Creeper, a character unseen since The New 52 debuted.

 

Moving on to Detective Comics, John Layman discussed the impending #19, which, in totality, is the 900th issue of the series. Claiming that you “make the comics you want to buy,” the $7.99 installment clocks in at a whopping 80 pages with a 50 page lead feature, which Layman jokes is serious enough to not read on the toilet. Lobdell quipped that “Well, you’re allowed to read my comics on the toilet”, with Buccellato retorting that “They read better there.”

Jimmy Palmiotti, whose run on Batwing with frequent co-writer Justin Gray debuts with #19, opens with series protagonist David Zavimbe “being put through the ringer”, explaining what the writers plan to do with the book, and features what Palmiotti calls “a nice conversation with Bruce [Wayne] and David” before dovetailing into revealing the identity of the new Batwing at the end of the issue, someone Palmiotti hints, like Robinson’s new Batman, is “tied closely to the Batman family.” A new version of Hawkman villain Lion Mane will debut, and Batwing will no longer just be a hero confined to the continent of African. Palmiotti notes that while his run starts in Africa and Gotham, the character then goes international, claiming that, in terms of upcoming stories, “anything goes” and that the possibilities are endless.

Over in All-Star Western, a “major guest star” will be arriving for three issues, strongly rumored to be the time-traveler Booster Gold, last seen fading out of existence in the New 52’s Justice League International Annual #1. Booster or not, the stranger will “take [series protagonist] Jonah [Hex] for a crazy ride”, whilst “drop[ping him off in an even crazier world” on the character’s way out. Palmiotti fully expects both old and new Jonah Hex fans to be completely flummoxed by the new direction, but is confident they’ll end up enjoying the tales he has to tell. Commenting that the “book is in wild territory for awhile now that [Dr. Jeremiah] Arkham was thrown out of that train”, everyone should be surprised by what’s to come, noting that without Arkham’s guidance that Hex will be even more unpredictable.

Brian Buccellato, co-writer and colorist of The Flash, notes that this month’s issue picks up exactly where the April installment left off, with his powers stolen by the Dial H gang at the worst possible moment has he has to face the Outlanders who are storming Iron Heights Prison, demanding the release of the classic rogue The Trickster. Following the conclusion of that story, Buccellato mentions the Reverse Flash, teased in a recent issue, will be “killing people touched by the Speed Force”, implying a direct connection to a group of castaways who were actually trapped in the Speed Force, but were released during the recent “Gorilla Warfare” arc. Buccellato announced to a thrilled crowd that his Flash, Barry Allen, will meet Bart Allen, the Kid Flash from Lobdell’s Teen Titans in #21, and that an upcoming Tbe Flash Annual will feature a team-up between Barry and Green Lantern Hal Jordan, detailing how they met and the early days of their friendship.

Lobdell, curiously not mentioning his work with Eddy Barrows on Teen Titans, instead focused on his upcoming Hector Hammond-centric story in the pages of Superman. “Whatever you’re thinking about Hector Hammond and Superman,” he says, “is the complete opposite of what we’re going to uncover in the next few months. The Last Son of Krypton is about to realize, thanks to Lobdell, that “all his powers mean jack shit when going up against psionic-powered” villains like Hammond. Lobdell confesses that DC wanted to make a Hammond who can face off against The Man of Steel, and that they wanted him to be an “Onslaught-level power”, referencing the controversial villain from his long tenure with Marvel’s X-Men line. “By the end of this,” he says, “you will believe Hector Hammond can be a Superman villain. That’s what Christopher Reeve used to say. He never said that.”

Noted by the panel moderator that filming has commenced on a documentary about DC villains, the writers were surprised on the spot by a camera crew and were asked who their favorite DC foes were. Lobdell, without missing a beat,  yelled out “Scott Snyder!” before launching into a convoluted answer involving how it depends on the story, the villain and various other factors, before finally settling on Lex Luthor. Buccellato loves Captain Cold because “he’s not really a villain, he’s just a guy trying to get by” even if his activities are less than legal. Buccellato also expressed a love for Grodd, “because he’s a ginormous talking gorilla and I love Planet of the Apes and he has telepathic powers which makes him double awesome.” After laughter and applause from the audience, he quipped “Scott Lobdell is my least favorite villain.” Both Nocenti and Layman admitted to an affinity for Poison Ivy. Higgins couldn’t choose between Two-Face or the Riddler, noting that he grew up with Batman: The Animated Series, so his “way into all these villains was through [that] lens”, noting a special love Mr. Freeze, especially in his animated incarnation. Tynion explained his selection of Ra’s Al Ghul, saying that he “love[s] the master manipulator characters” and that “Batman is Sherlock Holmes and he needed a Moriarty.” Palmiotti explored a quasi-controversial choice for his selection, saying that “Jonah Hex is really a horrible bastard” and that, as a writer, he’s the “most fun when we’re writing him as the bad guy.” Snyder, of course, selected the Joker after briefly answering “horses” to a confused, laughing audience.

With good humor, fresh takes, bold changes, a vast array of genres and love for the material, it’s easy to see why The New 52 can still be “new” over a year and a half after its debut. Hopefully, with this kind of enthusiasm, it can continue to be new for many, many years to come. If the New 52 panel at WonderCon is any indication, there’s no doubt that the New 52 will still deserve the name for a very long time.

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