DC's One Year Later: SBC's First Impressions Now

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In this column several SBC reviewers appraise the first month of DC's "One Year Later" event.

Kevin T. Brown: DC Comics for the past two/three years has been working towards a specific goal, one that involves producing not only the best comics they can, but also a more cohesive universe whose heroes are more heroic. DC's process to this goal has been is to break everything down, re-examine their heroes and then build everything back up, in some cases right from scratch. This began in 2004 with Identity Crisis, continued in 2005 with Countdown to Infinite Crisis and four mini-series and follow-up one-shots (Villains United, Rann-Thanagar War, Day of Vengeance, and The OMAC Project), and then culminated with Infinite Crisis. And what has all this wrought? An event called One Year Later.

This March DC Comics “leapt ahead” one year in its continuity. One Year Later, or OYL, is DC’s newest attempt at re-energizing its entire line, and so far, it appears to be very promising. DC has definitely brought a new level of excitement to their line of books.

The titles beginning their one year jump are as follows:

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #40
Blood of the Demon #13
Detective Comics #817
JSA #83
Outsiders #34
Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #23
Birds of Prey #92
Green Arrow #60
Nightwing #118
Supergirl #6
Superman #650
Teen Titans #34
Batman #651
Catwoman #53
Hawkgirl #50
JSA: Classified #10
Manhunter #20
Robin #148
Action Comics #837
Blue Beetle #1
Green Lantern #10

Twenty titles starting over with some completely changed from their previous incarnations, and one brand new title featuring an updated character. So is the one year leap just a temporary “fix” for all the continuity laden stories from the past 20 years, or is this “just another event” instead of the new status quo for the DCU?

I feel DC has achieved a new status quo. DC is not ignoring the continuity issues of the past, but rather is working hard to incorporate them into a new, re-aligned universe. With Infinite Crisis not yet finished, we have little to go on in terms of knowing the exact direction DC is headed, but the OYL titles give us some insight. It’s obvious DC took great pains in planning this; being very meticulous in getting everyone on the same page. Offering the readers some real change to the characters that may not have been possible without moving ahead one year. Some have been good changes, some bad, but overall they're apparently not doing this just for the sake of change.

Again, DC has generated a new level of excitement for their line. Excitement I have not seen in nearly 20 years. The difference between now and then though is DC appears to be dedicated to making this work. However, even with only one issue into each OYL run, there have been "bumps in the road."

For instance, there are some titles that appear to not “realize” it’s one year later. It’s as if we’re picking right up where we left off. Titles such as Blood of the Demon, Nightwing, and Birds of Prey, to name a few. The creators may have used the OYL reboot to throw certain little tidbits into mix (Dick Grayson is now in New York and has long hair, for example), but if you didn’t know about OYL, you wouldn’t bat an eye. It appears early on, the creators of these titles did not use the full potential of jumping ahead and played it relatively safe.

These are the exceptions to the norm, however as titles such as Superman, Batman, Catwoman and Green Arrow made full use of leaping ahead. Changes have been made within these titles, some rather dramatic. Mysteries mentioned as to what happened “last year” are left hanging there in order to keep the reader guessing and wanting more.

Then there are titles such as Aquaman and Hawkman that have undergone not only title changes (Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis and Hawkgirl, respectfully), but changes in the lead character. Aquaman being the more dramatic of the two. Thankfully, both titles have high quality creative teams, which gives them a fighting chance to survive and hopefully increase sales. And once again, they use the one year leap to their advantage to have the reader wanting more.

One issue in and OYL seems to be a success. While some creators were not willing to go out on a limb, take a chance, and dramatically alter something they’ve been working on for months, others did take that chance, and their titles shine. Now is this going to be a “forever and ever” situation for DC? Probably as much as forever can be in comics, I suppose.

DC has taken a huge chance in attempting these changes. They could have played it safe and did a few minor things along the way and just cleaned up the continuity glitches from over the years. DC didn’t. And the results are quite possibly the best comics, as a whole, that DC has put out in a long time. Thankfully, this is just the beginning.

Shaun Manning: Possibly the most notable, unifying aspect of "One Year Later" is that every single title is a jumping on point for new readers. I know I have taken advantage of this, picking up several titles I had never read before—namely Hawkgirl, Robin, Catwoman, Firestorm, Nightwing, and the long suffering Manhunter. I agree that not all creators took full advantage of OYL's "clean slate," and I can't say I'll be returning for a second helping of every new comic I tried out. Firestorm, for example, was a solid book but did not have enough of a "hook" to hold a new reader's attention; Manhunter, by contrast, displayed a level of fun, adventure, and new-reader accessibility that should draw people in for the long haul. Catwoman took advantage of the year gap to completely shake up the status quo, sending Selina on a fast track through pregnancy and installing Holly in the heroine's role. I would have liked to have a bit more an entry point to Catwoman's recent history, but the character is familiar enough that her new situation resonates even if the reader does can't quite discern how all the different players fit in. The only true disappointment of the bunch was Nightwing, as everything—story, art, concept—fell flat. Most readers picking up Nightwing for the first time will be familiar with the Jason Todd situation, but this issue doesn't give any sense of who Dick Grayson is or why anyone should care. On top of that, I felt the stakes just weren't high enough, and the "mystery" of the second Nightwing should have been just as obvious to the hero as it was to readers (even without the aide of spoilerific Diamond solicitations).

Even if I only continue reading half of the new comics I sampled, that's still a permanent sales boost to two or three of DC's second-tier titles, and by that criteria I'd have to say One Year Later is a success.

John Hays: A while back, I wrote an article on the highs and lows of DC Comics in the past year . In it, I provided a good deal of skepticism for the material being put out in an effort to reshape the DCU, with the sole promise from the DC heads of "it will all be worth it in the end."

Well, we've only seen the first issues of One Year Later, but so far I have to say...it's worth it. While some titles, such as JSA: Classified, seem relatively similar in style and substance to what they were before, other titles that used to be very dear to my heart, such as Superman, have finally regained the character integrity and storyline excitement that helped bring me into comics over twenty years ago.

When I first started collecting comics, I was an avid fan of the Superman and Justice League titles. Both of these had tight continuity between their respective titles (Superman, Action, Adventures, Man of Steel on one side and JLI, JLE on the other). In fact, the Superman titles even divised a triangle numbering system that helped greatly in keeping everything in order, especially years later on rereading a certain storyline.

As the years went by, however, DC started moving more towards shorter runs for creative teams, where the characters' behaviors and appearances would often change drastically from month to month. I ended up dropping the Superman titles altogether, only picking up interesting storylines here and there, and occasionally even dropping JLA when really uninteresting storylines came along.

From reading the initial issue of Geoff Johns' and Kurt Busiek's run on Superman, and from simply having high hopes for Brad Meltzer's upcoming JLA run based on interviews, it really feels like those days of my loyally collecting my favorite characters' titles might be returning, and that's very exciting. In fact, the quality of these storylines in the OYL titles is actually causing me to add new titles to my pull list, such as Batman/Detective, which I'd only collected lately for the Jason Todd storyline, and Nightwing, which I'd never before collected but will now as long as Jason Todd is a main player.

I think that if DC can garner this type of reaction with any respectable amount of their readership, then their sales should increase quite a bit, and hopefully that in turn will lead to even more opportunities for interesting comics, toys, and other things that I can enjoy in the future.

Nicholas Slayon: When I heard that all DC titles would be jumping ahead one year, I was slightly upset. The DCU was moving at a breakneck speed, always changing and evolving, building towards the climax that is Infinite Crisis. Still, there were countless aspects in the various titles that had not been tied up and seemed too important not to handle. DC spent the past three years working to maintain a continuity and build a cohesive universe. In my mind, the OYL jump would only ruin all that hard work. Of course, that was just my cynicism kicking in.

Soon enough, the true details behind the OYL plan were announced: new books, new creative teams, new directions, and 52. This brainchild of the top DC writers (Johns, Waid, Morrison, Rucka, and various others) shall reveal what happened in the missing year week by week. Combined with the hints through the various titles that have hit OYL, DC has given us a grand mystery of events and characters that can only entice us further and have us at the edge of our seats.

Various changes have been made to the OYL titles: restarts, relaunches, and new creative teams. For the most part, these changes have been met with praise, like for JSA, as well Johns and Daniel's Teen Titans, and Moore's Firestorm. In an odd choice however, Judd Winick continues to write Green Arrow despite a critically panned run.

Meanwhile, critically hailed writer Kurt Busiek has taken over the reigns of Aquaman, now Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis. He is also teaming up with Geoff Johns to pen an epic eight issue story arc running through Superman and Action Comics which, if the first issue is any indication, shall give the reader a chance to see what a hero Superman really is. In a moment that shall make history, James Robinson of Starman fame has returned to comics. He's currently handling Detective Comics and Batman in a run full of murder, mystery, and a gothic atmosphere not seen since the O'Neill/Adams days that I so longingly miss. The former fan favorite series Nightwing, after suffering a much maligned run, now has a new approach involving identity theft and a theme of brotherhood.

However, I am not happy with the new titles from DC. Checkmate, Shadowpact, and Secret Six are merely continuations of the four miniseries prior to Infinite Crisis. Nothing really original, and to be honest, the ideas do not interest me. I found the miniseries to be boring and unexciting when they were released, and I doubt that the new series will be anymore interesting.

Complaints aside, I am incredibly happy with the effort DC has been putting behind the OYL drive. Shipping has been streamlined so the titles arrive in order and nothing is spoiled. They have decided to give us a mystery rather then simply telling us what happened, and in truth I eagerly await what is coming. Yes, I'm not happy about some changes, and yes, I find the new titles unexciting, but the majority of the material DC is putting out is creative genius, and I'm ready to go buy it..., if I have enough money. 2006 is a goldmine of creativity for the company, and for the fans.

Michael Aronson: I was too young for comics when the DCU went through its first post-Crisis boom and restructuring in 1986, so the closest event I have to compare to OYL might be the "Age of Apocalypse" and "Heroes Reborn." The big question following both those events were "How have these characters changed?" and "Will things ever be the same again?" Unfortunately, due to coexistence in a larger Marvel Universe, the status quo became very much the same very quickly.

But One Year Later doesn't have a common grounded baseline. The entire backdrop of the DCU has been uprooted. We can't, for example, refer to JSA to find out why Hawkgirl is the solo agent of her own title. The core Batman titles have been streamlined to two, providing no explanation for the changes in the Robin or Nightwing solo titles. The extent of the change has been absolute. Nothing is solid, nothing is sacred, nothing is certain - and that's freaking cool.

I would consider the OYL shift a success, not due to the strength of any particular title. All the books have the common theme of mysterious circumstances and a year-long gap of untold events, but for the first time in the past year or so, the titles are finally crossover-free and independent of each other. More than this, they're able to explore their own stories and any type of stories they desire. Some, like Aquaman, seem poised to tackle the uncertainties involving the status quo shift directly. Others, like Outsiders, Nightwing and Firestorm, seek to build upon previously established plot threads, using the OYL shift to fast forward to the new status quo. And others, like Hawkgirl and Catwoman, seem interested in moving away from the past to tell new stories.

Despite the intense micromanaging and coordination involved to lead the DCU up to Infinite Crisis in the first place, I'm getting the impression that it will take even more coordination to balance a DCU of independent (read: non-crossing over) titles. Presumably the mysteries involved in the year-long gap will be revealed in 52, but will be simultaneously explored in each respective title. For example, once 52 reveals the assignment that brought Harvey Bullock back to the GCPD, the Bat titles can start referencing it. That sounds intense, but it also leaves the impression that the DCU has become this breathing, evolving creature, that each and every title matters if only because they share the same universe and, post-Infinite Crisis, will each contribute to establishing the new landscape.

I guess Grant Morrison's dreams of a sentient universe do come true.

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