Week two of the new DCU sees a wealth of titles in the “Dark” and “Edge” categories, including a fair number of previously obscure characters now headlining books, as well as more relaunches of A-list books and characters.
Again, here’s my ratings scale:
Pull = I’m putting it on my pull list, picking up every issue
Ponder = I’m wobbly with it, and may stick with it for another issue or two, but haven’t yet committed.
Pass = No thanks; not working for me, and there’s too much else out there to give this any more attention.
Batman & Robin #1 – Written by Peter Tomasi, art by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray
Excellent recap of the Bruce-Damian relationship to set the scene (including how they even fight
differently), emphasizing the father-son dynamic. As has been the case with Damian ever since his introduction, however, it remains unclear how he’ll develop as a character. His ice-cold pre-pubescent assassin persona
was intriguing on first glance a couple years back, but is now seemingly stuck. That said, there’s a great intro to a new, invisible and ruthless villain, who takes out the Russian Batman and apparently has an issue with the whole Batman Inc. concept. Appropriately moody artwork from Gleason as well, including a clichéd but appropriate call-out to the ur-moment of Bruce Wayne’s inspiration to become Batman. Recommendation: Pull.
Batwoman #1 – Written by J.H. Williams III, art by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman
Finally. After two years of teases and promises, the stand-alone Batwoman series has arrived. As expected, Williams’ jaw-dropping art is the star attraction here, and fulfills the promise of his 2009 Detective Comics run with Greg Rucka. Visually, this is quite simply one of the boldest, most innovative comics produced today, regardless of genre. Williams’ meticulous and poetic layouts are the sort of thing that no other medium can do. His writing is also up to the task, especially given all the necessary re-introductions to Kate’s world. There’s a nice exposition dump, one of the best in the relaunches, in a two-page spread to catch people up to the tension between Kate, her father, and her mysterious (and presumed dead) twin sister, aka the villain Alice. Kate and Batwoman just look right throughout, with Williams’ interpretation likely being definitive in a way few characters are today (I’m talking Ditko-Spider-Man, Kirby-Thing, Adams-Batman definitive). The smart use of a second artist, W. Haden Blackman, for flashbacks, was also an effective way to share the burden and give stylistic motivation for the change. That said, the coloring’s off a smidge on a few pages; does Kate have to look as pale as Miss Goth Universe? Still, there’s no denying the immense appeal of this character and title. The new, chilling storyline involving missing and drowned children is also a compelling plot to kick things off. Recommendation: Pull.
Deathstroke #1 – Written by Kyle Higgins, art by Joe Bennet
Frankly, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one, as scowling, badass mercenary assassins are generally about as interesting to me as Egg McMuffins. However, the verve and malicious pleasure expressed in this title surprised me. Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke, is a textbook scowling badass mercenary assassin (albeit with metahuman strength, stamina, refelexes and intellect), but overall the tone here is much less Punisher and more James Bond film as done by Robert Rodriguez: swaggering, excessive, stylish, and just campy enough to sell it. Oh, and incredibly, even shockingly, violent. This semi stand-alone intro sets up the character perfectly, with sparse dialogue and Joe Bennet’s bold, assertive lines (this is the sort of muscular art Liefeld thinks he produces, but actually doesn’t even approach). Intriguing, and worth keeping an eye on. Recommendation: Ponder.
Demon Knights #1 – Written by Paul Cornell, art by Diogenes Neves
A refreshing break from DC’s usual contemporary urban thriller sensibility, the Demon Knights are basically the Magnificent Seven as itinerant magical misfits in the Dark Ages. Cornell places these cult, but underused characters together in a pub, as a marauding army just happens to invade. The result is sheer fun above all, with a dash of nasty violence (especially the opening scene) as the baddies (the Horde) attacks, and the Knights introduce themselves, bicker, and fight. Great character moments abound (like when it’s revealed that Lady Xanadu is cheating on her partner Jason Blood, with his alter-ego, the demon Etrigan), keeping things at a constant pace. DC’s track record with its magical teams isn’t great (remember Shadowpact?), but there’s certainly enough here for everyone, and lots of potential stories to tell. Recommendation: Pull.
Frankenstein and the Agents of S.H.A.D.E. #1 – Written by Jeff Lemire, art by Alberto Ponticelli
DC needed to go out on some limbs in the reboot, and this title is great example of how that can pay off. The title character is indeed the monster of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, a sad, noble, smart and dutiful gentleman who just happens to be cobbled together from several corpses. He’s teamed here with an amalgam of mad DCU science (provided by Ray Palmer, aka The Atom), dubious science, some classic horror icons (a vampire, a werewolf, a mummy, and even an amphibian monster), and a bossy Father Time in the body of an eight year old schoolgirl. Totally bonkers, but considerably more interesting than most of the new 52. Lemire’s touch is just right for this material, knowing when to lay it on, and when to back off, as he’s proven already with Sweet Tooth and the new Animal Man. Ponticelli’s art is also right on the mark, its wobbly lines and slightly chaotic feel perfectly matching the book’s monstrous tone. Again, DC has a history of not supporting this sort of thing for long, but hopefully readers will stick with it for a while. Recommendation: Pull.
Green Lantern #1 – Written by Geoff Johns, art by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy
The Green Lantern books and mythos have become to DC what the X-Men and (more recently) Avengers have been to Marvel, with multiplying characters and titles, and an overarching influence on the entire line. Indeed, Johns’ ascension at DC is directly related to the sales success of his Lantern titles and the Lantern-themed mega-events, Blackest Night
and Brightest Day
. However, their gaudy amalgam of space opera and superheroics are also arguably the most weathered of Silver Age tropes. While Johns, to his credit, has deepened and varied this universe and its characters, the whole concept of cosmic policemen with power rings still feels more 1960 than timeless (in the sense of Superman and Batman). Moreover, they’re insular, full of continuity, and not especially welcoming to outsiders. Accordingly, it’s not a good sign that they decided to relaunch the flagship Lantern title by focusing on Sinestro’s reluctant acceptance of the green power ring, and Hal Jordan’s seeming transformation into Harvey Pekar. Again, both Johns and Mahnke deliver the goods, but they’re rote by now, and sadly exactly the sort of thing people who are afraid of comics think all comics are filled with. Recommendation: Pass.
Grifter #1 – Written by Nathan Edmondson, art by Cafu
Grifter is another one of the imported Wildstorm characters, which ideally should deliver on the promise to shake things up in the DCU. In this case, however, there’s not much of interest to go on. Cole Cash (seriously?) is a con artist who finds himself confronted by otherwise invisible malevolent beings and decides to adopt a mask to go after them. The characters are passive throughout this book, as stuff just happens to them, and they react. The situation and dialogue are surprisingly stilted for such an outlandish concept; even a mid-air escape comes across as dull and matter-of-fact. The characters are ciphers, with Cash in particular badly channeling Lost‘s Sawyer. That said, Cafu’s art is impressive, if a bit standard, adding some dimension to an otherwise dull title. Recommendation: Pass.
Legion Lost #1 - Written by Fabian Nicieza, art by Pete Woods
The Legion of Superheroes is another Silver Age remnant of the DCU, a complicated futuristic space opera that appeals to its diehard fans and precisely nobody else. The concept and characters aren’t without appeal in principle. However, it’s become so bloated and contradictory over the years, with incompatible timelines and dozens of characters
, that it’s difficult to jump in and expect to follow. Sadly, Legion Lost
replicates exactly those problems. It feels like issue 7 or 31 or 74 of an ongoing series, rather than issue 1. While I appreciate the attempt to open in media res
, this is not the way to do it. The only way to have a clue about who these characters are or what they’re doing is to have a pretty solid working knowledge of the Legion mythology. Without it, the reader’s just as lost as the title characters. Recommendation: Pass.
Mr. Terrific #1 - Written by Eric Wallace, art by Gianluca Gugliotta
As a sometimes fan of the 2000s JSA, I had high hopes for this title. Sadly, however, this is one of the worst of the relaunches. Michael Holt may well be the “third-smartest person on the planet,” but as he’s portrayed here, he’s likely also the third least-interesting person on the planet. While his character has a backstory, he’s so perfect and pure that it negates any internal drama. Perhaps he only works in the context of a diverse and not always agreeable team like the JSA. On his own…yawn. The only interesting thing that happens in the book is via a new villain’s mind-control manipulations, but even this lacks texture. Gugliotta’s art is also substandard, aping the general conventions of the day without differentiating it in an interesting way. Worse, it tries to pass a generic US city skyline off as “London.” I appreciate the attempt at diversity by giving Mr. Terrific his own book, but this is a huge missed opportunity. Recommendation: Pass.
Red Lanterns #1 - Written by Peter Milligan, art by Ed Benes
The good news is that the lineup on this book is rock-solid. The bad news is that the concept isn’t all that interesting. The Red Lanterns (fueled by rage) were intriguing when introduced a few years back, but by now the idea’s overexposed. Turns out that perpetually angry, hyper-violent space soldiers who literally spit blood gets old fast. I’ll grant the Red Lanterns have a solid fan base, but that says more about the state of comics fandom than anything else (again, Green Lantern continues to be a drag on creativity). For all too many comics fans and creators, the stylized hyperviolence ushered in by Image in the 1990s has become equated with comics in general. For the rest of us, it’s as if Jersey Shore knockoffs dominated prime time TV. Fine in its own niche, but utterly boring in its ubiquity. That said, Milligan and Benes gamely give it their best, wringing every bit of quality from this one-dimensional concept. As an introduction, it’s actually quite good. Hats off to Milligan in particular for giving Atrocicus a bit more texture. It’s just that there’s nowhere all that interesting to go from here. Recommendation: Pass.
Resurrection Man #1 - Written by Dan Abnett, art by Andy Lanning
This is another attempt to pluck a character from obscurity into the spotlight, and graft a bit of Vertigo grit onto the DCU. In this case, it mostly works. Our title character (aka Mitch Shelly) is sort of the Captain Jack Harkness of comics: every time he dies, he comes right back to life. The twist is that each time this happens, his powers change completely. He must relearn what he is with every new life. It’s sort of a Stephen King kind of character and setting, and it works well, with grim scenarios and soul-stealing demons on his tail. Andy Lanning gives it the right amount of exaggeration and mystery, reminiscent of the best horror comics. It’s a perfect inclusion for the new “Dark” line, and there’s a lot of potential. That said, it could also turn into The Fugitive or The Incredible Hulk TV series if Abnett et al aren’t careful. Recommendation: Ponder.
Suicide Squad #1 – Written by Adam Glass, art by Federico Dallochio
The concept of supervillains forced to perform dangerous missions of dubious legality or ethics by a top secret government agency is still pretty damn cool. DC’s gotten fair mileage out of it for many years
. Adam Glass dives even deeper into the concept with this iteration, amping up the violence and hard-core personas of the squad members. This works OK in principle, particularly as the characters are nicely varied (including the likes of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, King Shark, and a couple of intriguing new baddies). That said, its tone is a bit too cruel and unfunny. Those looking for something like the depraved but deep characters, zany madcap plots and fantastic dialogue of Secret Six
will have to look elsewhere, unfortunately. Suicide Squad
is potentially an intriguing title, but it’s going to have to find more secure footing first. Recommendation: Pass.
Superboy #1 – Written by Scott Lobdell, art by R.B. Silva
Another reboot of another almost-A-lister, Superboy
mostly goes along with the origins of the last version of the character (Conner Kent), as an attempted Superman clone. Given the still unfolding narratives of this new continuity, the exact origins of this Superboy are still a mystery, though it’s firmly hinted that he’s a fusion of Kryptonian and human DNA (apparently via one of the scientists who developed Superboy, Caitlin Fairchild, another imported Wildstorm character
). While it didn’t strive too far from the rough path established by the last version, it’s clear that he could still be an intriguing character, as an unstable biotech hybrid with uncertain ethics. Lobdell’s busy script ably introduced key characters and concepts, kicking off the title well. There’s certainly potential to fold him into the overarching continuity in interesting ways, but there’s also an equal likelihood that he could simply replicate what came before last time out. Recommendation: Ponder.