by Chaim Mattis Keller
Is the anthology comic coming back? Amongst the wave of 80-Page Giants released by DC in 1998 were two which featured a variety of different characters rather than characters who are all connected to one central one (such as Flash, Batman or Starman). Were they successful in reviving the format?
Legends of the DC Universe 80 Page Giant
Well, if you enjoy reading Silver-Age comics, this is the book for you. If you enjoy the complex plotting and intriguing personality explorations of more recent eras, forget it.
Legends of the Dark Knight is a book that concerns itself less with strict continuity than telling thought-provoking, mature (in the good sense, not the Vertigo sense) stories featuring Batman. In an almost ten-year run, it was bound to have a few clunkers, but for the most part, the book lived up to its promise: a classic character in modern-style stories by a rotating set of talented hands.
Legends of the DC Universe was intended to follow up on that theme, applying it to the rest of the DCU. So far, I haven't felt that the book has offered much to cheer about, but that could change, given the right characters in the right set of hands. Certainly it has already shown some of its promise, for instance, in the Superman-Robin story in issue # 6. However, the 80-Page Giant connected to this title is, in this reviewer's opinion, a complete failure in living up to the title's mandate. Instead of writing mature, interesting stories featuring Silver Age characters, what we have is a bunch of SilverAge stories written by modern writers who can certainly do better. The Doom Patrol story, Adam Strange story and Hawkman story (which features the pre-Hawkworld Hawkman and Hawkgirl) fit into this category. They play on long-time readers' nostalgia rather than on their intelligence. The Adam Strange story loses points from this reviewer for a gratuitous Darkseid appearance.
The other stories in this book are somewhat better, with one exception, which we'll get to later. The Spectre story is the best of the lot, accurately invoking the spirit (no pun intended) of John Ostrander's Spectre while delivering a moral that doesn't seem trite as the morals of the above-mantioned stories do. The Titans story gives some nice character sketches of the original seven Wolfman-Perez Titans and by far the best artwork in the book, courtesy of Phil Jimenez, although it really doesn't add anything new, which leaves me feeling like it's just filler. The Chronos story which serves as a frame for the entire book is not bad, and, since it's done by Chronos's own writer and artist, is well in character.
Personal note: I was going to complain that it ruins the book, as Chronos's presence means it must take place in continuity, and the Hawkman story is clearly outside of that. I was also going to derisively state that this could probably be explained by Hypertime, but that I wouldn't give DC's editors credit for that kind of foresight these days. However, in a Newsarama interview this week, Mark Waid explicitly reveals that this was meant as a Hypertime reference. Good timing just saved this book from losing another point in my eyes.
The worst story has to be the tale of how Rip Hunter joined the Linear Men. Last time Rip Hunter, Time Master (as opposed to the Linear Man Hunter) was seen in continuity, he was stuck 48,000 years in the past with no way to return to the present, and with the understanding that any method of time travel can only be used once by any one person. This story begins with Rip Hunter traipsing around time using a multi-use time machine (with a wisecracking computer), with no hint of how he got back or got it (unless this is intended as another Hypertime story and this is the pre-Crisis Rip). This is sad, especially considering that my original understanding was that Dan Jurgens's story was indeed supposed to cover that ground; it can only be assumed that it was hacked up by editors. Worse, Rip is portrayed as a bumbling idiot. Todd Nauck's art, which has definitely improved with each issue of Young Justice, is still immature here, by which I mean that each character looks like a seven-year old child.
My grade: 4 out of ten, 2 1/2 of which is purely due to the Spectre story.
Adventure Comics 80 Page Giant 1
This, on the other hand, is more like it. This issue features characters who have been featured in Adventure Comics during its near-50-year existence (some only during the reprint digest stage), but in their modern incarnations.
The Wonder Woman story will not be enjoyed by anyone who doesn't like the Byrne Wonder Woman, but if you didn't mind it, it's a fun story, with Johnny Thunder portrayed very true to his Golden Age personality. The Supergirl story is a bit preachy but manages to throw in a bit of insight into the modern Supergirl's history. The Captain Marvel story, in which Captain Marvel pretty much sees an alien going through his (Captain Marvel's) origin is pretty worthless.
The Superboy story is pure fun, confirming my opinion that he's the best thing to come out of John Byrne's version of Superman. The Legion story is a simple teamwork-themed one, harking back to the mid-seventies. The Green Arrow story was the second best in the book. It shows why people have taken to Connor Hawke in the way they never took to Kyle Rayner: he's an earnest, respectful young man who's got a good head on his shoulders and strives to earn the respect of others rather than having the respect incredibly heaped upon him.
However, the crown jewel of this book is the last story: "Tales of the Bizarro World." I'll start off with what I don't like, which is the fact that the art absolutely sucks. Granted, it might be an intentional stylistic decision to go this way because of the inherently backward nature of Bizarros, but it was a serious eyesore. The story contains a hilarious parody of nearly everything that has occurred in the Superman books since the Crisis, all filtered through the eyes of a pre-Crisis style Bizarro. This Bizarro has created his own world, which is turned on its ear by the well-meaning Superman until he begins to get an understanding of what the Bizarros' world means to them. While the continuity of this story is dubious, the framing sequence of it makes it entirely possible that it is all in Bizarro's mind, thus squaring it all away. And the ending of the story is wonderfully poignant.
In truth, there's not that much difference between the level of story in this 80-Page Giant as in the Legends one, but the stories in this one are definitely more in tune with the sensibilities of the modern reader and by the way, I happen to be a collector and enjoyer of Silver Age stories, but they are very much a product of their time and for their intended audience, which is not that of any modern comic, especially not Legends of the DCU. The expectations of this book are, in this reviewer's opinion, lower than that of Legends of the DCU, and therefore better met.
My grade: 7 out of 10.
My conclusion: Anthology-style comics are a great showcase for characters that haven't been seen in a while, but they should be handled in a way that would be appropriate to the target audience as they exist today not as they once were. They are also a better way to market currently-published characters to people who don't normally read those characters' books than the annual crossovers are. I definitely hope the anthology-style 80-Page Giant is here to stay, as long as the quality of the stories is given the attention that the stories in the ordinary books are given, and perhaps higher, since they are intended to possibly create for some characters an audience which does not yet exist or grow one that is small. The editors can definitely do a better job of this than has been done with the two 1998 examples of this format.
All characters are DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Chaim Mattis Keller.
The scanned covers are © 1999 DC Comics.
Letters Editor Chaim Mattis Keller, aka Legion-Reference-File Lad, is a computer programmer who lives in New York City with his wife and four children.