Reading the Tea Leaves: JMS’s Superman and Wonder Woman

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This morning, DC announced that J. Michael Straczynski would be writing Superman and Wonder Woman beginning in July, with issues #701 and #601, respectively (apparently preceded by previews in June’s anniversary issues). That’s now been followed by a kind of statement of purpose by Straczynski, which amounts to “here’s why I love Superman, and by the way Wonder Woman’s okay too.”

So what can we expect from JMS on these two series? Straczynski hints that his Superman is “part of a larger effort that will have national ramifications” and “will have the whole country talking about him in ways that we haven’t seen in a long time.” That’s pretty big talk, especially since his major work at DC so far–the revival of the Red Circle characters and a series of apropos-of-nothing team-ups in The Brave and the Bold–hasn’t exactly set the sales charts on fire. Still, he seemed to connect better with bigger-name franchises when he was writing regularly for Marvel: his Amazing Spider-Man was a hit, and his Thor was as solid an incarnation of the title as there had been in ages. (It’s also worth noting that his comics have had a lot of deadline problems in recent years. Thor was effectively bimonthly for most of the JMS run; The Twelve has been on hiatus since late 2008; even The Brave and the Bold is currently taking a couple of months off.)

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Straczynski’s obviously passionately interested in Superman as a character, and he’ll be writing both the DC Universe version of Superman (or, as he calls it, the “mainstream title”) and the out-of-continuity Superman: Earth One graphic novel. It’s less clear from these early announcements that Straczynski’s got the same kind of deep interest in Wonder Woman, and his initial statements–that Wonder Woman is “the nearest analogue to Superman in the DCU,” and that “as Superman has been for me, so Wonder Woman has been for a lot of women readers”–don’t suggest much of an engagement with her as something other than a Superman knockoff. (He also notes that he plans to “bring a more contemporary sensibility” to Wonder Woman; there have been other attempts to do that, some more successful than others.)

It hasn’t yet been announced who’s working on the other Superman titles, and how they’ll connect to Straczynski’s Superman. The mothership, as well as Action Comics, Supergirl and World of New Krypton, have effectively been rewired into a big weekly serial over the last year (and now Adventure Comics seems to have been drawn into that group of titles, too). But Straczynski’s explained that he left Thor because he doesn’t work well with big crossover events, which would seem to be a liability for someone writing a series like Superman in the current system.

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The other curious thing about this morning’s announcement is that “the coming months” will see public announcements about who’s going to be drawing both titles, which suggests that either it hasn’t been decided yet or it’s not being considered as important as Straczynski’s involvement. That’s a little worrisome: Straczynski’s comics often sink or swim based on his chemistry with the artists he works with. A lot of the fun and energy of his early Thor issues, for instance, came from his collaboration with Olivier Coipel. Here’s hoping that the upcoming Wonder Woman and Superman artists are not just as big a deal as their writer but able to create something with him worthy of those “national ramifications.”

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