With a great many major announcements to come out of the DC Metal & The New Age of DC Heroes panel at New York Comic Con 2017, it was inevitable that some details might be overlooked. As such, when it was mentioned that Jeff Lemire and Ivan Reis’ upcoming The Terrifics would see the titular superheroes (Mr. Terrific, Plastic Man, Phantom Girl, and Metamorpho) meeting, but, as DC co-publisher Dan DiDio put it, “not merging” with Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse’s Tom Strong and related characters from Moore’s defunct “America’s Best Comics” line, the audience received the news with relatively little fanfare.
Granted, the fact that the Tom Strong universe would be returning was not quite news, as it had already been announced the day before. Yet the fact that DiDio made a point of saying that the universes would not be “merging” is still a significant one.
Last year’s DC Universe Rebirth one-shot, kicking off DC’s newest publishing initiative for their primary line of superhero comics, introduced Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen universe to the DC Universe. While published by DC Comics, it was originally intended to be a decidedly standalone story beginning and ending in 12 issues from 1986 to 1987 that have been repeatedly reprinted in the decades since under DC’s own “mature readers” imprint, Vertigo.
Vertigo is also home to The Sandman, the acclaimed fantasy series by writer Neil Gaiman and a host of some of the most acclaimed artists of the ’90s. The title character, Dream of the Endless, may have met DCU characters like Etrigan the Demon and even Batman in early issues, but by the end of the long-running series, there seemed to be an unspoken rule that the world of Sandman existed outside of the one that’s best known for characters like Superman and the Flash. If Dream met Batman in his own series, it was only because Sandman is a story about stories, taking place in a world in which almost all stories have already happened, and, rather conveniently, Vertigo is legally within its rights to tell Batman stories just as much as they can retell, as Gaiman and company did in one memorable Sandman issue, William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Yet in the first issue of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo current Dark Nights: Metal crossover event, Dream shows up on the last page, much to Batman’s–and, quite likely, the reader’s–surprise.
Tom Strong, too, was not meant to exist outside of his own universe. And it is certainly worth noting that in a sense, he won’t, at least to the degree that, assuming DiDio and DC keeps its promise, he probably won’t be able to join the Justice League or some such thing anytime soon. Yet the fact that he is even being allowed to acknowledge Plastic Man’s existence represents a certain kind of boundary crossing that is worthy of discussion.
That’s to say nothing of the fact that Alan Moore himself is probably none too pleased, to say the least. His continued displeasure toward DC and the state of the current mainstream comics industry as a whole is a discussion for another time, as is the question of whether or not DC’s continued use of his original characters in this way is ethical (the fact that it keeps happening seems to be evidence that the legality of the matter is more-or-less settled).
A more pertinent question may be, where does it all stop? Are the characters from Preacher going to discuss theology with The Spectre? Will V from V for Vendetta (again by Moore, with David Lloyd) debate the morality of vigilante justice with Green Arrow? Will Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, meet Y the Last Man?
These may seem like silly musings, but so too did the idea of Dr. Manhattan Meeting Superman just a few years ago. There may be differing opinions about the actual quality of these stories (although, it must be stressed, both Metal and the ongoing mystery of DC Rebirth have both been remarkably well-received so far by fans), but it does seem that, little by little, DC has slowly been taking some of their most sacred standalone stories off their respective pedestals.
Granted, Metal‘s story hasn’t finished yet. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock, the 12-issue maxi-series representing the culmination of Rebirth that will presumably solidify Watchmen‘s place in the DCU, doesn’t get its proper start until late November, and will not be completed until at least a year from then. Similarly, The Terrifics has yet to release its first issue. It will be some time until we could fully measure the success of DC’s slaughter (or, at least, exploitation) of some of their most sacred proverbial cows, but this very well may be looked at years from now as a pivotal point in DC’s publishing history, and whether that is for better or worse remains to be seen.
If I may editorialize, I can’t help but feel baffled by my own optimism about both these particular stories and the trajectory of DC Comics in general. If it could stick the landing, Metal, helmed by one of my favorite creative teams in comics, is already on track to beat out Final Crisis as my favorite large-scale crossover event. The Terrifics seems like a heck of a lot of fun, and Lemire and Reis are both deeply talented creators.
As for Doomsday Clock? Well, if you had told me a few years ago that the Watchmen characters were going to become part of the mainstream DC Universe, I wouldn’t have just said you were crazy. I would have threatened to swear off my beloved DC Comics entirely (I would still have my equally-beloved Marvel Comics, but it still would have broken my heart). Indeed, I felt like one of the only people who didn’t love that original Rebirth one-shot. No amount of emotional returns, unexpected reveals, or even amazing deals ($2.99 for an 80-page comic? Seriously?) could have ever convinced me that Watchmen–which absolutely deserves its reputation as perhaps the single greatest comic book story of all time–had any place in the DCU.
But I picked up several books that were part of the initial Rebirth roll-out because I respected and had previously enjoyed work from the creators, like Tom King and Gene Luen Yang and Patrick Gleason and Priest and John Romita Jr. And I kept reading because the stories are good. And I’m still reading because the stories have remained good. I still can’t say I’m completely sold on Doomsday Clock, but as Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics, Geoff Johns has proven to have a passion for the DC universe and good storytelling in general, and has helped oversee a true, well, “rebirth” of DC Comics thanks to an emphasis on, above all else, good storytelling. I can’t promise I’ll like Doomsday Clock, but I trust Johns (and enjoy Gary Frank’s artwork) enough that I plan on buying every issue.
I can forgive a lot for a good story. I still have reservations about “destroying the sanctity” (if I may borrow a bullshit phrase from the American far-right) of some of the most revered characters, concepts, and stories in comics. Yet when you strip away all the context surrounding them, historically, critically, and even commercially (which are not insignificant things), Tom Strong, Sandman, and yes, even Watchmen, are still just stories.
Let’s not have Bugs Bunny meet the lions from Pride of Baghdad anytime soon though, okay?