Friday, September 9, 2011

DC's New 52, Week 1

Beginning this month, DC Comics is completely rebooting its entire line of comics, starting every comic over from issue #1 and re-imagining their characters, not entirely from scratch but definitely making some changes. It's a move intended to bring in new readers to the continuity-heavy world of superhero comics, and since I've only occasionally read DC superhero comics myself, I figured this was a good time for me to check out what they have to offer. This month DC is unfurling 52 new issue #1s, and I'll be reading all of them and briefly reviewing them here, week by week. This week, I review the 13 first week titles, plus Justice League #1, which came out last week as the debut of the new line. I rank them below from best to worst; by my count there were 3 very good DC comics this week, a few more that were variably enjoyable and/or promising, and then some mediocre junk. Anybody else following this initiative?

1. Animal Man #1 - This book is just fantastic. I wouldn't be surprised if this winds up being the best out of all 52 comics when this month is over. It's a mix of family drama, horror, and superheroics, balancing all these different tones without seeming all over the place. Writer Jeff Lemire packs a lot into 20 pages, economically reintroducing this character, his family, and the themes and conflicts that will drive his story. And the art, by Travel Foreman, is amazing, especially since it shifts fluidly from sketchy domesticity to punchy superhero action to surrealist, horrifying dream sequences. This looks more like an indie book than a big DC superhero title, so the aesthetic is especially striking and invigorating in this high-profile context. The art is so attuned to the nuances of the storytelling, and the style morphs to fit each new wrinkle perfectly. This is a must-read book, one that already seems poised to match the high standard of Grant Morrison's classic run on this title.

2. Swamp Thing #1 - Definitely the second-best book this week, though not remotely in the same jaw-dropping way as Animal Man. Instead, this is just a solid introduction with some very good storytelling by Scott Snyder. I'm not very clear on what exactly is going on with this character, not having followed the pre-reboot DC universe, and in that sense this book doesn't seem as new-reader-friendly as most of the others. The character's history is left pretty vague and confusing, maybe deliberately since I sense that a big part of the book's early arc is going to be figuring out just what's going on with Alec Holland. But the essence of the character and his status quo come across and there are some great sequences of horror that really make me excited to see where this is heading. The whole scene where the big threat is revealed is chilling and creepy and genuinely frightening; I won't spoil it but it's true horror brilliance, wonderfully visualized by Yanick Paquette.

3. Action Comics #1 - I really dig Grant Morrison's new take on Superman as a populist crusader with an attitude, definitely a fresh perspective on the character. It's obvious that Morrison is deliberately taking a different approach from the mythic boy scout of his fine All-Star Superman miniseries. Even Superman's costume feels more approachable and human. The first half of the issue really pops as it introduces this new Supes in action. The second half gets a little jumbled and isn't as strong, but overall this is still quite good. It's also the most straightforward comic I've read from Morrison in a while.

4. Justice League #1 - This issue is actually from last week, since it was the debut of the new DC line. It's pretty good, nothing mindblowing or anything, and I don't know why the debut of a whole new reboot wasn't made more exciting, but it's still not bad. Mostly based around some amusing banter between Batman and Green Lantern, and then the badass new Superman shows up at the end. It's more a teaser than anything else and it works in that sense, but it's not much of a story. This issue takes place five years earlier than most of the other reboot titles (with the exception of Action Comics) so it's meant to show the early days of the new status quo, when the heroes are just getting to know each other.

5. Batgirl #1 - Just a fun, basic superhero story with a lot of heart and emotional complexity. I like that in restoring Barbara Gordon to the Batgirl costume, they've kept her history from Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, so that trauma continues to haunt her even though she's regained the use of her legs. That darkness is contrasted against a refreshing enthusiasm in the dialogue and narration that's really infectious, and makes her seem like a girl who's just happy to be out kicking ass. Not exactly substantial, but pretty enjoyable nonetheless.

6. Stormwatch #1 - This is visually pretty interesting. Every few pages there's some slightly nutty cosmic concept that provides a very striking image. (Although the character drawings are a little stiff.) The problem is that the characters are all so flat and undistinguished, and writer Paul Cornell seems to know that a lot of readers will be unfamiliar with these characters, so virtually all of the dialogue is exposition and explanation. Lots of characters talking about themselves, explaining their powers, saying things to each other that they really have no reason to say except to explain something to the reader. That could get better now that the 1st issue is out of the way, but it still suggests a pretty unimaginative sensibility that jars against the visual imagination on display here. I'll check out a couple more issues of this to see which direction it heads.

7. OMAC #1 - A book that's totally in love with Jack Kirby. Not even a pinch of originality here, but it's fun enough, lots of Kirby dots everywhere, lots of superpowered enigmas pummelling each other. Entertaining and fluffy as hell. I imagine the Kirby pastiche will get old fast so I'm not sure how much longevity there is in this concept, but as a single issue it's a blast.

8. Detective Comics #1 - Pretty standard, even generic Batman stuff. There's lots of Frank Miller-style "I am the terror that flaps in the night" overwrought "gritty" writing. Not terrible, but not especially interesting either. And the Joker isn't funny, which is always a bad sign. The last page is nicely creepy, though.

9. Batwing #1 - Even more standard and generic than Detective Comics, despite this being about an African Batman, a protege of Bruce Wayne. Not exactly bad, but there's not much to it. It's one of those books where it's hard to point to what's missing except, well, anything that would differentiate it from countless other nondescript hero comics.

10. Justice League International #1 - I guess this is supposed to be the lightweight, fun, funny book where a bunch of D-listers hang out. The problem is that while it's certainly lightweight, it's not fun or funny at all, so it's pretty lame and pointless. Really bad dialogue, really bad all around.

11. Static Shock #1 - Yet another really boring one. It's trying for the light-footed teen superhero style of early Invincible, but its attempts at hip dialogue seem forced and the wisecracking tone doesn't produce any actual humor.

12. Green Arrow #1 - Not sure what to say about this other than it sucks. Totally generic, every line of dialogue is a clunkily delivered cliche, the art is static and bland, and all the Youtube references are obvious, desperate grabs for relevance that fall far short of the mark. This is somebody's laughable idea of "media criticism" I guess.

13. Men of War #1 - This. is. so. goddamn. boring. There were 2 stories in this, both straightforward war stories full of all the clichés you'd expect. I got through the first but my eyes started to glaze over just thinking about reading the second.

14. Hawk and Dove #1 - There might be 2 panels in this whole thing where someone isn't grimacing with that same damn I'm-squeezing-out-a-poop-right-now expression on their face. Actually, Hawk is the one who always looks like that. Dove, with her constantly gaping mouth, looks either perpetually surprised or like she's always ready to give a BJ. Rob Liefeld, man. This is terrible.


Papageno said...

Thank you so much for writing up the 52 comics. I've followed your writings for a while, and it's a testament to your interests and insight that you're willing to branch out into other media. Plus, now I have a reliable source to direct me toward which of the 52 are worth reading!

Ed Howard said...

Thanks, Papageno, I appreciate it. I've always liked comics (mostly more indie/experimental stuff) and while I knew that most of this new DC stuff wouldn't be for me, I figured I'd check it all out anyway to find the few gems.

Troy Olson said...

I'm shocked, SHOCKED, that Liefeld's book as shit artwork in it. Lots of anatomic abnormalities, kneepads, and pouches though, correct?

I'm impressed you are doing this Ed. I'm not surprised that Swamp Thing and Animal Man head the list of good reads -- both are characters that have been out of the spotlight for so long, that a fresh start should do them both good (and it sounds like the writers involved are smart enough to play off of their Vertigo roots). I still own all the issues of both characters classic runs and just re-read the Moore/Veitch era of Swamp Thing last year (it might be my favorite comic book run ever). Anyways, I shall seek both of these out.

Morrison's Action Comics is the one I was going to be certain to track down. I loved Morrison's take on Superman from All-Star Superman (and really end up enjoying most of what the man does), so it's interesting that you say he goes a different route with it here.

I liked the old Stormwatch series and it was one of the things that got me back into comics in the late 90's/early 2000's. I might have to give that a try too. Cornell's Captain Britain and MI-13 series at Marvel was a really fun read and something that stood out from the standard superhero stuff.

As for the reboot as a whole, I had all but given up on DC over the last year or so (save for Morrison's Batman, and even that had its share of problems, i.e. crap artwork), though I typically stay up-to-date on stuff via some blogs here and there.

Anyways, I went ahead and read the final few issues of Flashpoint which led into this whole thing and it pretty much convinced me to not get invested, as it has all the hallmarks of the last time DC did this after Infinite Crisis, where they pretty much forgot about all of the interesting changes that were made and began going back to the status quo and then setting things up for this new initiative.

Anyways, my point is that Flashpoint #5 pretty much gives them the out they'll need to scrap this, kill all the struggling titles at issue #12 (I can't really believe OMAC and Men of War have a bright future), put things back to "normal" (especially if a new movie for one the characters is around the corner), put all the numbers back to pre-reboot ones on titles like Action and Detective (they won't dare miss out on the 1000th issues of those), etc., etc. And so goes the superhero business of recent years.

Dear God, I really should delete that rant, as I've become the grumpy-old comic book guy now. On a positive note, I can say your post has gotten me more interested in at least checking some of these out from the library or reading them at the local bookstore, something I haven't done in some time...

Ed Howard said...

Hey Troy, I think you're right that this initiative is ultimately going to mean as little as DC's previous attempts to shake up the status quo. It's already pretty obvious that they can go back to normal whenever they want and I'm sure they will eventually. I just hope they have the sense to let the good things that come out of this relaunch continue. Like you, I haven't paid much attention to DC for a while. I've read and enjoyed Morrison's long and pretty good Batman run, his great All-Star Superman, and the Greg Rucka/JH Williams Batwoman, which was fantastic and has me really excited for Williams continuing that character on his own next week. I've skipped the rest of the DC stuff. Then again, I've probably read even less from Marvel.

Anyway, there's no reason to think that the changes made here will stick, and one thing I've already noticed is that there aren't many surprises: the books I expected to be good were good, and the books I expected to blow (Liefeld!) pretty much blew. I don't see a long life in the future for Hawk and Dove or Batwing, but then I won't be reading them anyway. From what I've heard, the actual good books, even something as weird and unusual as Animal Man, have sold well already, so that's a good sign that the quality stuff from this initiative will at least result in a solid year's worth of good stories. I like that DC has given some of its characters to writers and artists with a strong, individualistic vision. I may drop the whole thing if they start doing huge line-wide crossovers and mucking everything up again, but based on this week and the stuff they'll be releasing in coming weeks, I'm probably going to be following a bunch of these for as long as they can keep them interesting. That's more than I've been able to say about big superhero comics in quite a while.

Sam Juliano said...

I do wish I knew more about this exhilarating hobby, but I guess there are only so many hobbies one can have. You have imparted your rhetorical gifts on another worthy venture, and even though I haven't seen these I can sit back and fully understand how each can be seen as a little treasure.

Ed Howard said...

Thanks, Sam, I appreciate you reading despite not being a comics fan.

Jandy Stone said...

I've never been a serial comic book reader, though I've read and enjoyed some graphic novels/collections (Watchmen, Year One, Y: The Last Man). I hadn't heard that DC was doing this, but I'm intrigued. I guess I'd be one of the new readers they're hoping to get, if I actually follow through and pick some up. I'm pretty much only familiar with the ones of Batman/Superman-level of fame, but your Animal Man write-up is definitely interesting me. And the reboot of Superman, who's never been a favorite superhero of mine, but the direction they're taking him in this one sounds really good. Now I guess I'll have to figure out where a comic book store is. :)

Ed Howard said...

Jandy, I've never read very many serials month by month, either, but I'm starting to get more into it. There's some good stuff in this reboot, for sure.

Riot said...

quite frankly i find the new 52 to be a joke. i would rant on it..but i just blogged on it so ill spare u :P