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Batman vs. Batman vs. Batman

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“This is a DC fanboy dream book, hopefully.”

This is what DC Senior Vice President — Executive Editor, DC Universe Dan DiDio said about Countdown: Arena back in August when he spoke to Newsarama.  He refers to the fact that the series will feature versions of the company’s most popular characters from various alternate Earths battling it out.

The Monarch is setting out to conquer the multiverse and he’s gathering a handpicked team to do so. For this to work, his team must consist of one Superman, one Batman, one Wonder Woman, one Flash, one Green Lantern, one Starman, one Ray, one Blue Beetle, and one Nightshade. He has gathered three each of the most powerful—or deadly—versions of these characters he could find in the Multiverse. They will compete to see who has the honor of serving in his army.

This is DC’s way of rewarding fans who love alternate universes and argue with their friends over which hero could beat which hero. DC is hoping these fans reward them by picking up this weekly series.

The conventional wisdom is that when you get a group of hardcore fans together in the same place, eventually the conversation turns to which hero would win in a fight. Could Thor beat Superman? Could Spider-Man triumph over Batman? Could the Thing win against the Hulk?

Tapping into this series of arguments has sold plenty of books in the past.  DC Versus Marvel was a big hit miniseries because it settled some these arguments. The Thing/Hulk conflict has been revisited numbers of times in the pages of the Fantastic Four and the Hulk. And the JLA/Avengers event was greatly anticipated because of the possibility of the two teams facing off.

However, all of the examples above featured characters with decades of appearances in comic books before these battles happened. Most of the combatants of Countdown: Arena are multiverse versions of the original characters with few, if any, appearances in actual books. I guarantee you no matter what comic book shop you went to, you’d be hard pressed to find any fan arguing whether the Red Rain Batman or Gotham by Gaslight Batman would win in a fight.

DC is hoping the fans’ love of alternate versions of their characters kicks in here. The concept of alternate universes is so popular that it supported a line of “Elseworld” titles in the 90’s and encouraged DC to bring back the multiple Earths in the pages of Infinite Crisis.

The popularity of this concept lies in the creators exploring the similarities and differences from the versions of the characters we all know and love. Countdown: Arena doesn’t appear to lend itself to that kind of character development. It’s seems geared to getting the characters fighting as soon as they possibly can. The idea of a Green Lantern that shares an Earth with the Fawcett Captain Marvel intrigues me, but I doubt the series will give more than cursory background.

From a creative standpoint, the make up of the team to be selected and the combatants seems more determined by editorial mandate than story logic. It harkens back to the team gathered in the first issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths and the same question asked by “fanboys” at the time. If you want to conquer multiple Earths, and had 52 Earths to choose from, wouldn’t you pick the most powerful beings on each Earth? Why not choose 9 Supermen? Or 9 Captain Marvels? Or 9 Green Lanterns? Or why stop at 9? Why not 52 Supermen? That team would make universal conquest a breeze! But instead we get Batman, Blue Beetle and Nightshade mixed in.

Supposedly, there will be an explanation given why these 9 specific characters are necessary. But that asks the question why they only have three combatants per character? If you want the best version of each hero, then shouldn’t all versions of the hero be put to the test? Not if you need the story to fit into a four-issue miniseries.

In a sense, DC is giving fans what they want, but it’s far from a dream come true. Countdown: Arena does touch upon concepts that readers enjoy. However, it is not a perfect execution of these story types. The series should do well as a further tie-in to Countdown and as a lead in to Final Crisis. But I’ll wager that all the fanboys will not be uniting behind this book the way DC expects.

Also out this week:

Ultimates 3 #1:

The Ultimates are back, but quite a few things have changed. They are still only in a miniseries, but now it’s only five issues instead of twelve. Gone are Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, replaced by Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira. And there seems to be a few new members on the team, namely Spider-Man and Wolverine.

Of course, the one thing that might not change is the title’s tendency for lateness. The first two Ultimates series were marred by long gaps between issues. And members of the new creative team have had problems with being on time in the past. However, an Ultimates 4, with Ed McGuiness on art, is rumored to already being in the works. They wouldn’t start that unless this volume was already in the can, would they?

Jeph Loeb (W), Joe Madureira (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99, Five-Issue Miniseries.

Northlanders #1:

Brian Wood made a name for himself on such titles as Demo, Local, Supermarket, and DMZ. These titles are, for the most part, set in modern times. Twisted, alternate reality modern times, but modern times nonetheless. This week, the creator goes all the way back to 1000 AD for his new Vertigo series.

The series tells the tale of a Viking prince named Sven who returns to his homelands to find his father dead and his family and friends enslaved by his ruthless uncle.  He has come back to claim what is his—his throne and righteous vengeance.

The most interesting part of this series is the parallel Wood makes between the distant past and present day. The more things change, the more they stay the same. But it does give something for readers to relate to.   

Brian Wood (W), Davide Gianfelice (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $2.99, Ongoing Series.

The Danger's Dozen #1:

Good things come in twelve: donuts, months of the year, military forces led by Lee Marvin. And now, we can add the Danger’s Dozen to the list. Led by a RAF pilot named Boss Aman, the team is the only thing keeping post WWII Europe safe from superhuman danger. Now they face their most difficult task—a threat that endangers the fabric of reality as we know it!

This might be the first offering from start up company A First Salvo, but they have placed the title in good hands. The art for the series is done by former Batman artist Norm Breyfogle and there is a back-up story in the first issue written by comics veteran Mike Baron.

Thad Branco & Anthony Cannonier (W), Norm Breyfogle (A), A First Salvo, $3.50, Ongoing Series.  

The Twelve #0:

Speaking of dozens, here is another book featuring a team of that number. While J. Michael Straczynski’s series starts in earnest next month, this special preview acts as a prequel of sorts. It reprints the Golden Age stories of some of the cast members, character sketches by the miniseries’ artist Chris Weston, and a sneak peek of what to expect next month.

I am a fan of the Golden Age of comics and I appreciate Marvel bringing back some of their more obscure characters. Between this, DC’s Justice Society of America, Image’s Next Issue Project, and Alex Ross’ Superpowers series for Dynamite, it is a good time to learn more about the glory days of the medium.   

Various (W), Various (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99, Preview to the Twelve-Issue Miniseries.

Infinite Horizon #1:

Homer’s The Odyssey was written about two millennium and seven centuries ago, but still remains an important piece of writing even today. The epic Greek poem has reached immortality through the myriad ways it has been adapted and reinterpreted. The story has served as an inspiration for the Coen Brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou, the Steely Dan song Home at Last, James Joyce’s novel Ulyssees and even the Broadway musical The Golden Apple.

The poem, which tells they story of a warrior’s long return home after fighting in the Trojan War, gets another re-imagining here. But instead of returning from Troy, the soldier is returning from the Middle East. It’s a modern day twist on the ancient text and will keep the legendary epic alive and vibrant by exposing it to new audiences.

Gerry Duggan & Phil Noto (W), Phil Noto (A), Image Comics, $2.99, Six-Issue Miniseries.

World War Hulk: Aftersmash:

The war is over and now that the dust has settled, the survivors begin to figure out where to go from here. A lot of damage was done that needs to be fixed. People who sided with the Hulk must deal with the repercussions. People who he fought must examine what their actions had wrought. Friendships will end, partnerships will begin and the Marvel Universe will never be the same.

This one shot sets the stage for where Marvel is going in the post-World War Hulk era. It will give us a preview of the new miniseries featuring the Warbound and Damage Control, the new direction for the Incredible Herc…er… I mean Hulk title and might just be the last time you see the Heroes for Hire team in a comic for a while.

Greg Pak (W), Rafa Sandoval (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99, One-Shot.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a weekly contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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