Thursday, August 18, 2011

DC Comics Retroactive 1970s

I have been meaning to write something about this "event" for a little while, but the hitch in my plan was that I was avoiding reading the comics in question. Why? Just apathy, really. I bought them more because I felt they were aimed at an audience like me, and I wanted to encourage that. However, I wasn't sure how enthusiastic I was about the product.

Well, despite my misgivings that you can't go home again, I read all six of the 1970s-themed books recently, and I liked them a lot. To explain for those of you out of the loop, the conceit in the "Retroactive" books is that the clock is turned back to the decade in question and we are presented with a story from that era. DC has recruited veteran writers for this project - Len Wein, Cary Bates, Denny O'Neil, and Marty Pasko on the 70s books. Sadly, the artist ranks from that decade are somewhat thinner as far as who is still with us, but they managed to bring in a few folks active during that decade.

There are six books that are getting the "retro" treatment. Can you guess? It's only the most recognizable and marketable properties in the DC stable: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Justice League. Ironically, two of those (WW and GL) did not sell especially well for a time in the 70s, and JLA was at one point flirting with cancellation! My, how times change.

I can't pinpoint a favorite book among the sextet I have read. Perhaps the most interesting to me personally are the Superman and Batman books, because Pasko and Wein (respectively) have immersed them in the late 70s continuity for those titles back when they were writing for them. I'd say Cary Bates does a better job on his Flash tale than his Justice League, though he clearly seems to be enjoying giving his retro tales a modern spin. And hey, who knew Hal Jordan was a Pink Floyd fan? O'Neil's GL could have fallen directly out of a time warp from his latter-day, post-relevance run, while the Wonder Woman is...well, an odd duck. It's entertaining, and recalls some of the stories he crafted in the late 60s/early 70s. It just doesn't exactly fit a particular era for the Amazing Amazon. Perhaps that's a good thing.

Kudos to whoever got Eduardo Barreto to handle the Superman book. Not sure if he did anything for DC in the 1970s, but he has a style that fits very well with someone like Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (who doesn't appear, regrettably). Tom Mandrake on Batman was good, and whoever thought to get J. Bone for Wonder Woman is a smart one. It was really neat to see Mike Grell reunited with O'Neil on a GL/GA story, and quite heartening to see a couple of other old pros doing some inking. Sal Buscema (not a DC guy in the 1970s, but a Marvel mainstay in those days) inked the Flash book, while Ernie Chan inked the JLA cover, recalling the time when he was a go-to cover artist for DC as "Ernie Chua". Now, if only they had gotten his name right in the credits...

These are all solid if unspectacular books. Each is backed with classic reprints, but the choices almost feel random at times. If you are a regular comics, I'm sure YMMV. However? If you are one who pines away for the good old days and still rejects these books entirely, I really don't know what to tell you. You aren't going to get mainstream superhero comics more authentic as far as being old school. But then, people usually want comics the way they remember them, rather than the way they were.

I'd like to review the 1980s and 1990s installments of this initiative, but a) I am missing a couple of the 80s books at the moment and b) I am unsure if I can muster the enthusiasm for all 6 of the 90s titles. So, we'll see.


  1. The only ones of these I picked up were the '70s and '80s Flash ones, because...well, I love the Flash. The '70s one wasn't bad; slight, but pretty enjoyable. The '80s one I liked pretty well, but I always thought that Bill Messner-Loebs' Flash run was unfairly overshadowed by Mark Waid's.

    I'm also disappointed by how little attention this event's been getting; I follow a few different comics blogs, and this is the only place I've even seen the Retroactive stuff get mentioned (and Owari's not even specifically a comics blog!). But I'm glad to hear that the other installments were good; I might have to pick up the Superman and Justice League ones after all.

  2. I've seen a few blog posts about them, but those were somewhat lower-profile blogs. That was a big reason I wanted to at least mention them. I DID manage to prod Mike into talking a little about them over at Progressive Ruin, though!

    Y'know, I felt the exact same way about the Messner-Loebs Flash run. I read it pretty steadily, but gradually lost interest in Waid's version. Of course, that was what became definitive.

    I found the Superman pretty interesting because that was "my" Superman growing up, and the story felt very authentic to me. Didn't hurt that it ties into the Master Jailer story, which I read when it came out!

    I enjoyed the 1970s books more than the bulk of that "Silver Age" event from several years ago. That may be more of an indictment of the latter than anything else.