Polite and brave and honest?

By DOUGLAS WOLK  |  April 27, 2006

None of that is so much as mentioned in Bruce Jones’s dull, grisly script, although Jason has gotten a tough-guy accent (“sometin’ ” for “something”), seemingly out of nowhere.

A few creators have taken advantage of OYL to totally overhaul their series. Hawkman, for instance, has been replaced by Hawkgirl, thanks to the team of Walt Simonson and Howard Chaykin, who were the avant-garde of comics 30 years ago. They’ve converted the title into an eccentric, nicely drawn, and slightly incoherent horror series set in St. Roch, a thinly fictionalized New Orleans. But in some other cases, especially Blood of the Demon, it’s pretty obvious that the story has been moved forward only a year out of grudging compliance with editorial policy.

VACATION: Superman spends his year off getting the tar kicked out of him.

The smartest OYL story so far is “Up, Up and Away!”, a serial split between Superman and Action Comics. It starts with Clark Kent and Lois Lane watching a documentary about how Superman has been missing for a year — why? Well, I’m not going to spoil it here — and it mostly focuses on re-establishing the relationships among the Superman stories’ central characters, from Lois and Clark on down to Lex Luthor and Jimmy Olsen. There are teasers for the missing year (and therefore 52) in the form of newspaper headlines on the Daily Planet’s wall, but for the most part, it’s a back-to-basics move, setting up the pieces as they were back in the ’60s and earlier. (“Face the Face,” the serial running in Batman and Detective Comics, does much the same thing, but a bit less successfully, even dragging Commissioner Gordon out of retirement.)

Still, even most of the fun moments of OYL seem somehow like a retrenchment to the comfortable past. (Of the 22 series comics altered by the gap in chronology, only one, Manhunter, stars a character or team that hasn’t been around in some form for at least 23 years, and DC has been publishing stories about characters called Manhunter since 1942.) That points to a broader problem, which is that the comics business now thinks of its readership as a subculture — something with its own private codes that mark its members as belonging, and everybody else as not belonging. There are few things more fun than being thrown headfirst into the middle of an adventure story, which is what OYL was supposed to do, and in a few cases that’s how it works out. But, for the most part, you can’t just buy an OYL comic book and enjoy it: you have to buy into that whole subculture. And nothing is more off-putting for a reader than hitting some baffling point of back-story and sensing the ultimate insider’s sneer: “You mean you don’t know?”
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THE ONE YEAR LATER SERIES

The five best . . .

Superman/Action Comics
A crossover, and the only home run of One Year Later: Clark Kent hasn’t been Superman for a year. An ingenious plot, and a great starting point.

Birds of Prey
The Birds, radically changed, try to bring in a defector from the villains’ team. Crammed with plot, and a treat for long-time fans.

Hawkgirl
Formerly Hawkman , now a horror title. Howard Chaykin’s grainy, stylized artwork is terrific. Too bad the plot makes so little sense.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes
Considering this is a blatant contrivance to graft Supergirl onto the 1000-years-in-the-future team, it’s surprisingly fun, and the cliffhanger is very clever.

Detective Comics/Batman
A crossover: Batman is back in Gotham City, and somebody is murdering his old enemies. Designed to restore the old status quo. 

and worst . . .

Blood of the Demon
Sadistic, addle-pated horror that barely acknowledges a yearlong gap — or offers any means of access to new readers.

Nightwing
There are two Nightwings running around, one a murderous imposter. Insultingly stupid, violent, and, if you haven’t been following the “Red Hood” story line in Batman, confounding.

Outsiders
One of those Nightwings is leading a covert action team into Mali. Nothing but setup, bluster, and pose-striking.

Green Arrow
Rote superdude action that gives away its “shock ending” on the cover: Green Arrow’s secret identity has been elected mayor. 

Firestorm: The Nuclear Man
Firestorm has mysteriously merged with Firehawk, and all the explosions in the world can’t make us care.

Phoenix Literary Supplement

How to speak Yiddish: from the Talmud to tukhes and back. By Josh Kun

Med noir: the bloody Continental take on an American genre. By Dana Kletter

An icon's icon: death becomes all superstars. By Peter Kadzis

ARTICLES BY DOUGLAS WOLK
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