Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It Came From the Back Issue Bin! #21: The New DC "52"

In September 2011, DC Comics rebooted its entire universe and relaunched 52 new #1 titles. Why 52 new titles all in one month? I’m not sure. No one can pick up all these issues, especially when DC is competing with DVDs and video games for teenagers’ spending money.

What was lacking though was some kind of direction. Maybe a flyer or bookmark that could be near the cash at your local comic store that would be a roadmap for new readers. DC can’t really expect everyone to pick up all 52 issues. How hard would it have been to create this promo material to help steer you towards what you might be interested in? Also, some kind of overall rationale behind this new DC Universe would have been helpful. The timelines in these books are terribly confusing and even the continuity within each failed to bridge the gap, from not only a new reader point of view, but from long time DC fans.

For example, In Batman #1, Dick Grayson looks like he’s 16 maybe 17 years old. In Nightwing he’s easily in his early twenties and referencing his time as the Batman? What? I thought this was a reboot, not just a renumbering. Very confusing.

However, after its kickoff month, it seemed to be have been a dramatic success. Those #1 issues are hard to find, and pricey if you can find them. Most of them are having second print runs and the more popular titles, like Justice League, Swamp Thing, and Action Comics are going to third printings.

With all that aside, here’s my take on all of DC’s 52 new titles:

Action Comics #1 (A+) Loved the story and loved the art. Normally not a Morrison guy, but with Superman, he's done a great job at capturing a Year One version of him. Morrison delivers a great story that really gives you a feel of the grassroots movement that Superman inspires.

All-Star Western #1 (A) Kudos to writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti who take Jonah Hex into his next chapter and put the disfigured loner into the urban environment of the Gotham City circa 1880. The art by Moritat was a nice fit and he not only captured the moody protagonist, but subtly brought Gotham City to life with just a few select panels.

Animal Man #1 (B+) Jeff Lemire does a wonderful take on this second-tier character and really pulls you into his life. Travis Foreman’s art takes some getting used to. It’s definitely odd, especially as the quality of his work varies throughout the issue. His art in places seemed unfinished and way too simple with very basic background. Perhaps it was the coloring that didn’t mesh well with his art style.

Aquaman #1 (A+) Now that’s how you do a #1 issue. Johns takes on Aquaman’s status as a second-tier superhero head on and boldly re-establishes him. The story delivers a lot of character depth and Ivan Reis produces some of the finest artwork of his career so far.

Batgirl #1 (C) Meh. Again, confused about how Barbara Gordon is suddenly walking around, but somehow remembers being shot and paralyzed by the Joker. Given that the bat-books seem to be crowding out all the others in the DCU, this was one they should have passed on.

Batman #1 (A) Snyder does a wonderful job at weaving in all the elements that make Batman the Batman. He confidently displays both Batman and Bruce Wayne at their ideal bests. Capullo’s art surprised me as I recalled his work in the 1990s on various X-Titles. His work is strong and fluid, although the faces seemed a bit cartoonish in places. The Bat-Title to pick up.

Batman and Robin #1 (A) As the title tips you off, this Batbook focuses on both Batman and Robin, but this Robin is the Batman’s son, Damien. The flow of the story feeds off of the strained relationship between Bruce and Damien, as Damien, who was raised by Talia Al-Ghul and her cadre of assassins, struggles to find his place in Batman’s world of law and order. Tomasi does a great job touching on Batman’s roots in a new and interesting way. And I love the new surprisingly menacing and scary villain they’ve created.

Batman: The Dark Knight #1 (B) Finch’s art is simply stunning and exquisitely detailed. The story is decent, but the dialog seemed forced. The premise of this story is a bit tired as again there’s a situation at Arkahm with Batman’s gallery of villains (didn’t the same thing happen in Batman #1). With the glut of Batbooks, there seems to be no rationale behind these titles, no cohesion, or continuity.

Batwoman #1 (A+) J.H. Williams’ art is simply breathtaking. And fortunately, as he’s taking on the writing chores as well, his storytelling had taken a dramatic step forward. Enough said, go get a copy!

Batwing #1 (C) Another Batman-related book featuring one of the recruited agents of Batman in his international war on crime. Sigh. After reading it, I don’t really care for the protagonist or this idea of a Batman-spinoff. The dialog was clunky and the level of violence was terribly overdone.

Birds of Prey #1 (B) Okay, I opened up this book and expected to not like it. However, I did. It’s a strong start with a good story and great art that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go until the explosive ending.

Blackhawks #1 (C) Felt that this book never succeeded in pulling me in. The story didn’t grab me and the art turned me off. The art had an unfinished, rushed look to it. There were a lot of great action scenes, but there didn’t seem to be an equivalent number of scenes to allow us to get a feel for these characters.

Blue Beetle #1 (B-) I was a big Ted Kord/Blue Beetle II fan during his run on Justice League International from the late 1980s. It broke my heart when they killed him. Seeing another Blue Beetle just seems wrong on so many levels. This isn’t my Blue Beetle, but I can see the Peter Parker-like appeal of this teenager being transformed by this sentient, alien armor/suit.

Captain Atom #1 (B) A decent start for a character that always seemed to live life as a secondary character. J.K. Krul, who also wrote Green Arrow, does an admirable job introducing the character and his new take on him. The art’s not bad, although it seemed unfinished and fragmentary in places.

Catwoman #1 (C+) There’s not much depth to this story and it seems to hope to survive based on a reckless amount of women in their underwear. The climax at the end of the issue seemed awkward and forced and used simply for shock value. A real step back for a character who had really started to establish herself.

DC Comics Presents #1 (B) Wasn’t sure what to expect with Paul Jenkins’ angle on the Deadman reboot, but there was a lot to like. Deadman is a broke protagonist trying to balance the karmic wheel of his existence in his afterlife. His point-of-view pulls you in right away and doesn’t let you go until the end, and leaves you with a good sense of having experienced something.

Deathstroke #1 (B+) This book had a great feel and I was pleasantly surprised at this new take on Deathstroke. It succeeds quite well as part thriller and part action story. One hell of a great ride.

Demon Knights #1 (B+) Paul Cornell introduces us to his medieval version of the DCU with an eclectic assortment of mystical characters like Etrigan, Madame Xanadu, Mordru, The Shining Knight, and Vandal Savage to name a few. It’s ambitious and fun, and the art by Diognese Neves successfully captures that odd fantastical world that is the DC Dark Ages.

Detective Comics #1 (C) Not a big fan of this take on the Batman. The art seemed a bit off and the panel layout really slowed down and fractured the storytelling. Not a lot of character content. An interesting, yet gruesome last page, but I’m not sure how that got approved as it seemed rather inappropriate for a young audience.

Flash #1 (A) - Francis Manapul took over the writing duties (along with co-writer Brian Buccellato) as well as providing the art. His art is solid and fluid, capturing a great look and feel for the Flash. His storytelling continues to improve with great use of panel construction that compliments the world of speed that the Flash lives in.

Frankenstein - Agent of S.H.A.D.E. (B+) I really enjoyed this book despite its similarities to Hellboy and B.P.R.D. The artist, Alberto Ponticelli, has a great eye for dramatic storytelling, but his lack of detailed finish almost works in the opposite direction. The story is a great ride and there’s a motley crew of interesting characters to keep it going.

Fury of Firestorm #1 (B+) While the story’s over-the-top opening worked against it, the overall effect and the genuine conflict between the two protagonists is a good one. It successfully takes the teenage angst angle to another level and the story’s end is a nice, surprising twist.

Green Arrow #1 (B+) Another reboot I hadn’t expected to like, but the concept and implementation worked well. Writer J.T. Krul brings Oliver Queen back to his roots as a symbol for social conscious. Dan Jurgens’ art was good and quite effective for this book.

Green Lantern #1 (B+) Not Geoff Johns’ strongest effort on the Green Lantern, however, it’s still a great book. Doug Manke’s art is as strong and dramatic as ever and their storytelling is smooth and fluid. Confusion still abounds as to where this fits in with all the other Green Lantern related books. It would have been nice if this book could have been the anchor than grounds all the other books by setting a direction and feel for the new take.

Green Lantern: New Guardians #1 (B) Writer Tony Bedard is no stranger to the science fiction and he weaves a good issue #1 that features 1990s fan-favorite Green Lantern Kyle Raynor. It’s difficult to see where the story is heading, but its start puts down a solid foundation that should prove to be entertaining at the very least.

Green Lantern Corps #1 (B+) I thoroughly enjoyed Tomasi’s previous run on the Green Lantern Corps and he keeps it going despite the number change on the book. A good cosmic book with a focus on Guy Gardner and John Stewart, and with a great artist, Fernando Pasarin, who excels at depicting aliens and alien worlds.

Grifter #1 (C+) The Grifter is another Wildstorm Universe transplant, yanked from Jim Lee’s super team, The W.I.L.D.cats. I never really picked up that title, but unfortunately felt that this issue didn’t really help get me acquainted with the Grifter. The fractured storytelling through flashbacks didn’t really help the story along. I appreciated the dramatic start to hook readers, but after that all I felt all that was left was confusion.

Hawk & Dove #1 (F) Despite his blatant inability to correctly draw human anatomy (see the cover as a perfect example and how he renders Hawk’s torso), it simply stuns me that Rob Liefeld is still employed in this industry. Hawk & Dove will be among the first wave of cuts to the new 52.

I, Vampire #1 (A) I’m loving the attention that DC is paying to their horror line. This issue is a great start to what I’m hoping will be a great series. Andrew Bennett, a 400 year-old vampire, finds himself at odds with another ancient vampire, Mary Queen of Blood. She’s about to undertake a mad crusade to take over the world. Andrea Sorrentino’s art is luscious and moody; a perfect fit for this book.

Justice League #1 (A- ) Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s telling of the Justice League Year One is off to a great start that definitely left me wanting for more. However, had DC doubled-sized this first issue and included a glimpse of the other members, I think that would have made this kickoff book that much better.

Justice League Dark #1 (A) Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin team-up for a great first issue that introduces a new team of mystical superheroes meant to take on threats in the dark corners of the DC universe. It’s a tough act to bring together such an odd cast of protagonists, but so far Milligan has done a good job and I’m looking forward to see where he takes them all.

Justice League International #1 (B+) Having grow up enjoying the Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis Justice League of the mid-1980s and seeing that as a pinnacle in JLA storytelling, I didn’t have high hopes for this reboot. However, I actually enjoyed it and I’m genuinely interested to see where this idea goes.

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (B) The Legion of Super-Heroes is usually rebooted every couple of years anyways, so this book builds upon a rather large background history and has a large cast of characters that can be overwhelming to new readers. If you’re a fan of the Legion books, you probably won’t notice much of a difference, but if you’re new and want a great sci-fi book, this might be the book for you. Be warned, it does require an investment.

Legion Lost #1 (B+) A subset of the Legion of Super-Heroes find themselves in the past and trying to find a way to stop of deadly pathogen from destroying the Earth. A great start without all of the core book’s baggage and history. Pete Woods’ art worked really well, kicking the story-telling along with great scenes.

Men of War #1 (C+) This book didn’t work for me on multiple levels. The art seemed a bit too caricaturish and the story didn’t really pull me in. What I did like about the book though was the idea of a conventional military confronting super beings. Not sure why there was a backup feature, that will be running at least three issues, but the art and story seemed rather pedestrian, almost an afterthought to fill up the book’s page count.

Mister Terrific #1 (B) I was glad to see that one of the more popular members of the JSA survived the DC reboot. There’s enough of the original Michael Holt that comes through and writer Eric Wallace builds on that and creates a strong and compelling character. The art by Gianluca Gugliotta is effective and dynamic, but lacks the fine details to provide that overall finished look.

Nightwing #1 (B) The art in this book really stood out for me. It captured the look and feel of Gotham and its streets. The action scenes are very well done, fluid and dynamic. The story seemed a bit thin as the issue read very quickly. Nice touch to see Dick Grayson go back to his circus roots.

OMAC #1 (C) Loved the Kirby-esque art by Giffen, but the story was a little mindless
and uninspired. Why did they let Didio write this book? Surely they could have gotten someone else. The Emperor has no clothes.

Red Hood and the Outlaws (F) This issue is another fine example of the deluding of the art talent across the 52 titles. The art was terribly rushed and the panel arrangements were awkward and really pulled you out of the story. The dialog was equally bad and genuinely painful in places. I won’t even try to address the lack of story and complete degeneration of the Starfire character...

Red Lanterns #1 (B-) Another Green Lantern book. Sigh. I had to keep looking back at the cover to make sure it was written by the same Peter Milligan who had written Justice League Dark. The depth found in this book seemed rather forced and the scenes of violence flowed much more naturally. Stick to the core Green Lantern title.

Resurrection Man #1 (B+) A smooth opening issue by comic veterans Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning who return to their 1990s character, Resurrection Man. I liked the fresh take on him and look forward to seeing what they can do with him in the new 52.

Savage Hawkman #1 (B-) A clever approach on a hero who has been reincarnated and reinvented way too many times. Tan’s art is simply lovely and seems a perfect fit for Hawkman. Daniel’s story works quite well, but his dialog needs a lot of work.

Static Shock #1 (B) A fun first issue with a teen hero that succeeds in recreating the Milestone Universe from the mid-1990s in a condensed form. It’s ambitious and seems to strike a pleasing note in terms of the teen superhero books. Hopefully it won’t be lost in the mire of the other awful teen books.

Stormwatch #1 (B) - The art dragged down my rating. Story's great by Paul Cornell. Be interested to see where he's going with this setup. But again the art seemed half baked and I can see that it's become a bit of a pattern with this non-core book. Good, but not great art.

Suicide Squad #1 (B+) Once again the level of violence seemed a bit over the top, but the storytelling overcame that fault rather quickly and kicked it up into high gear. I couldn’t help but notice the fan outcry over a non-weight-challenged Amanda Waller. She appeared in one panel. Let’s give this book some time to flesh her out, shall we?

Superboy #1 (C) This book had a lot to live up to as Jeff Lemire’s latest incarnation of Superboy was well received. However, this relaunch became tiresome rehashing the same, overdone origin storyline. I didn’t feel that any of the supporting cast made any real impact on me.

Supergirl #1 (B) A great kick-off issue that covered all the bases on the core of this character. The art and writing are solid. The only complaint I had was that the event seemed rather padded with the battle sequence taking up most of the page count. It almost seemed as if it was structured that way to orchestrate its cliffhanger ending.

Superman (B) I’ll admit I had misgiving with artist turned artist/writer George Perez penning this flagship book, especially as he’ll be compared to Action Comics’ Grant Morrison. The book has a lot going for it. I won’t spoil anything as there’s a lot of great stuff there. The story is very dense and Perez has jammed a lot of dialog and panels into every page, which I felt was a drawback and hampered the flow.

Swamp Thing #1 (A) Really enjoyed this kick-off issue and loved Paquette's art, which was very smooth, very Kevin Nowlan-esque. Confused on how this whole new world works and how Alec Holland is alive and such, but hopefully the next few issues sort this all out.

Teen Titans (C-) I’m tired of Teen Titans’ reboots trying to recapture the glory of the 1980s, or even success of Young Justice of the late 1990s. This issue wasn’t any better than the last handful of attempts. It was genuinely bad in places, the dialog especially. Or it could be that I’m just too old to appreciate this kind of book. Or maybe not. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

Voodoo #1 (B-) Voodoo is another transplant from the Wildstorm Universe. While it took the book awhile to really get going as the story had to push through a lot of mindless and gratuitous T&A, the protagonist turned out to have some depth and surprises, enough to get me to pick up issue #2.

Wonder Woman #1 (B+) Wonder Woman’s always been a hard sell, just look at the 10 or so reboots and reimaginings of the character over the past twenty or so years. This take on Diana puts her in between humanity and a darker, nastier version of the Greek Gods who view humans as their playthings. Writer Brian Azzarello, known for his crime series 100 Bullets, has referred to this book as a horror title and this first issue and the stage that it sets certainly lives up to that billing.

--Jason Shayer