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It was a bit surprising when at Emerald City Con back in April DC Comics announced that Gerard Way was going to spearhead a new imprint of comic books called Young Animal. While Way is most widely known as the singer for the popular rock group My Chemical Romance, he has also put together a short but impressive comic book resume as a writer. His first series The Umbrella Academy received strong critical reaction. Then he teamed up with Shaun Simon and artist Becky Cloonan for The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, a complex dystopian pop fantasy that again got good reviews. Still, he didn’t exactly fit DC’s recent creative direction.
DC, under the leadership of Dan DiDio, Jim Lee, Geoff Johns and others made a major risk by restarting their universe with “The New 52” back in 2011. Some fans really loved it, and it initially sold well. Eventually, though, some of the luster of the project wore off. Fans missed the old stories and versions of the characters from prior to the reboot. So earlier this year DC kicked off “Rebirth,” a sort of course correction from “New 52.” Rebirth seems like it will eventually re-introduce some pre-New 52 continuity, but not all at once. There has been excitement for “Rebirth” overall, though it has not been a universally positive reaction.
On the other hand, Young Animal seems to be a throwback to earlier days of DC Comics, especially their Vertigo titles. Vertigo has been struggling lately, not producing the same sort of impressive boundary-pushing “mature” titles that define the artistic edge of comics. A lot of the prestige that used to belong to Vertigo now goes to Image Comics, a company that routinely picks up Eisner and Harvey Awards for their series and creators. “Young Animal” feels like a cross between Vertigo and Image.
If one had to describe The Umbrella Academy and Killjoys, it would be creative, unpredictable and complex. Whether you like “New 52” or not, those are probably not the terms you would use to describe those comics. So on one hand, the match between DC and Way seems a little unusual. However, it makes more sense viewed through the angle of Vertigo. While many Vertigo titles, such as Y: The Last Man, seem to exist in their own world, others such as The Saga of the Swamp Thing and The Sandman actually were a part of the DC Universe. (Watchmen was going to be a part of the DC Universe, specifically the Charlton characters, but DC decided they wanted Alan Moore to make up new versions.)
Young Animal looks like it will be a weird corner of the existing DC Universe. Doom Patrol has long been a staple of eccentric DC. It was also a title written by Grant Morrison, who seems to be a sort of mentor for Way (Morrison has appeared in music videos for MCR). Way will write a new version of Doom Patrol, with art from Nick Derington and Tamra Bonvillian. Additionally, Mother Panic is another Young Animal series set in the DC Universe. The series, written by Jody Houser with art by Tommy Lee Edwards, takes place in Gotham and has a new bat-like costume character.
Way is co-writing a comic called Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye (which is indisputably an awesome title) with Jon Rivera and featuring art from Powers co-creator Michael Avon Oeming. Perhaps the most intriguing series, though, is Shade, The Changing Girl. Cecil Castellucci will write Shade, The Changing Girl, which features some pretty incredible and trippy art from Marley Zarcone (and covers by Becky Cloonan). Overall, four series (at the start) is not a huge commitment from DC Comics. However, it could be enough to jump-start different things at DC and change the perception about DC Comics a little.
Whether fair or not, there is an idea that DC has been flailing somewhat for the past few years. Although there were some great series out of “New 52,” enough of the series were disappointing that the whole reboot didn’t seem worth it. Numerous series in “New 52” felt very monotonous and too similar to other titles. The decision to change courses again with “Rebirth” was seen by some as an example of DC heads not knowing what to do with their characters. It’s still too early to tell if “Rebirth” will win fans over, but there does seem to be some good comics coming out of it.
It’s possible that Young Animal, which starts this fall, could change the conversation about DC. Way has some cache, and if the series are good, Young Animal can win back some of the respect that Vertigo used to have and do it with DC continuity characters. They can also steal a page from Image Comics by offering different and exciting takes on stories rather than the normal superhero trick of crossovers. The previews of Young Animal series look pretty interesting. Also, it’s refreshing to see DC taking a bold new direction, even on a small scale. Hopefully, it will be the start of a rebirth of a different kind, a fledgling restart of creative and extraordinary comic books from DC.