Superman back in his classic “red underwear” outfit. Barbara Gordon back in her Oracle identity and in a romance with Nightwing. Both Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain back as Batgirl (sort of). Yep, DC Comics is using their latest crossover to give fans what they have been asking for.
The most recent, “New 52” iteration of the DC Universe was started in 2011. It re-shaped DC’s super-hero universe, as DC tends to do every so often is only the latest to coalesce after a decades-old practice of periodically rebooting the publisher’s collective fictional construct. The New 52 has been a mixed bag and it left some readers nostalgic for what had gone before. For example, a contingent of fans grumbled about the decision to put Barbara Gordon back in her Batgirl suit. Doing away with her evolution into super-hacker/information broker Oracle took away one of cape comics’ few disabled heroes, they argued. But the change stuck around. Now, those readers get to see their favourite version of Commissioner Gordon’s daughter again as part of the company’s latest crossover.
There’s a boring real-world reason that Convergence exists: it’s a way of making sure DC-branded comics continue to hit the stands while the company pulls up stakes from New York and joins the rest of the Warner Bros family on the West Coast. The event is also a bit of palate-cleansing before DC relaunches most of its superhero comics in June. As a result, these comics — 11 of which come out this week — probably won’t have much by way of narrative repercussions.
The first week of Convergence gets to the heart of the event’s narrative core: to revive and recombine past iterations of the DC Comics multiverse. Let’s just say it here: you can probably skip Convergence #1, which build out the main spine of the storyline that will be playing out over the next few months. It’s a continuation of the confused-exposition cosmic happening mode seen in last week’s zero issue. This time, it’s the New 52’s Alan Scott Green Lantern, a Thomas Wayne Batman and other denizens from the recent Earth 2 series wondering where they are. The cranky versions of the Justice League from the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game and comic show up, too. The best Convergence stuff happens away from the machinations of the cosmic manipulator Telos.
The main conceit for Convergence is that cities from various iterations of the DC multiverse have abducted the superhumans in each of those metropolises. Those heroes are being made to fight each other so that Telo can choose which burg gets to survive. A suite of series about these clashes affords a broader palette of tones than what comes with the usual superhero comics churn.
Some characters like Stephanie Brown in the Batgirl title and Mr. Freeze in the Nightwing and Oracle book have just decided to stop to being heroes and villains. What’s the point of putting on a mask when you can help people in other ways? Or in stealing diamonds when they’re suddenly worthless?
These are characters with interrupted lives, dealing with the existential crisis of having their entire frames of reference ripped out from under them. Take the Atom title, for example, and the fact that it wound up being an unexpectedly weird and sweet book. Starring scientist Ray Palmer as the Atom, it’s focused on a character dismissed long ago and swept aside as corny and out-of-date. In this new series, he’s gone mildly insane, hearing a voice in his head but still trying to fight crime with malfunctioning superpowers.
The Atom book is a reminder of the odd, standalone stories of the Silver Age but without the goofy macguffins. There’s a sense of real ache in this story, centred around the pity and revulsion Palmer encounters and the thirst for vengeance — sparked by the death of his superhero successor Ryan Choi — that drives him. He knows he’s losing his mind and that this might be his last shot to get justice.
Some of these titles exist seem to exist solely to appease neglected segments of DC fandom who felt stung when things changed. Beloved creative teams get to reunite with characters that never got a big chance to shine. You can see that thinking in Greg Rucka and Cully Hamner’s return to the Renee Montoya version of the Question. It feels good to get reacquainted with the police-detective-turned-faceless-crimefighter and her odd symbiotic relationships with Two-Face and Batwoman.
The Speed Force comic stars Wally West, the former Kid Flash sidekick who became the main Flash after the death of his mentor, Barry Allen. Wally had a beloved 100-issue-plus run of comics years ago; now, that version of his character doesn’t even exist after DC’s last reboot.
Speed Force taps into what was great about Wally West. He was a character who was all about family in each side of his double life. He was part of a long legacy of superfast characters, the “son” who succeeded the “father” and who later had his own superpowered kids to worry about.
Likewise, the Nightwing and Oracle book reminds readers why those characters were so well-loved. Writer Gail Simone re-presents Dick Grayson as the infectious optimist in the gloomy Bat-family and once again shows us a clever Oracle ready to exploit the way people underestimate her chairbound prowess. And the Harley Quinn book shows us a character who stops being psychotic — despite being haunted by visions of the Joker — and settles down with a cop who tried to stop her last superpowered crime spree.
The only real misfire in this first crop alternate reality divergences is the Justice League book, which seems to round up a bunch of female team members for no real reason other than parading them around in snug outfits. The main tension in that book comes from the evil-dictator-Aquaman’s abduction of an alternate-reality version of his dead wife Mera. This title doesn’t feel connected to a sorely-missed interpretation of the Justice League. Skip it.
There’s a bit of a paradox with the first week of Convergence series. On one hand, these new series continue in exactly the kind of continuity-laden framework that DC said that the New 52 was going to do away with. On the other hand, they all benefit from a sense of stakes. The superpowered heroes inside the series’ domed cities have lost their special abilities just when it looks like their world might actually end. It’s probably too much wishful thinking to hope that the energy in this event-stunt brigadoon will carry over to DC’s summertime soft reboot. But, right now, it seems like readers will get a crop of nostalgia-tinged books that they can enjoy on their own.