DC’s New 52: Week 1

Week 1 of the “new” DCU has come and gone. Here’s some brief observations on each title; I could say much more about each, but I do actually have other work to get to. While it’s usually not my purpose here to be an evaluative critic, this event demands that sort of reaction. In other words, as is typical in regards to not only comics but every other form of media in our infoverse (music and television in particular), if something happens on this scale, it’s helpful to get some context, even if only to determine whether or not it’s worth your time and money.

In order to make this even clearer, I’ve indicated my thoughts on each title at the end of each review:

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

Action Comics #1 – written by Grant Morrison, art by Rags Morales

One of the two most controversial relaunches, this takes us right back to the ur-moment of the entire DC Universe: the beginning of Superman. Morrison is the perfect choice for this task, steeped as he is in superhero mythology and lore, but always with a more meta sense of genre and medium. Here, in an arc set roughly six years back in the new continuity, Superman is a freakish mystery figure picking fights with crime lords and protecting the powerless. This is a deliberate revival of the original 1938 Superman,who had an attitude, and a stronger sense of social justice. Given the similar economic and social times, this Superman seems appropriate. However, he’s also clearly just starting out: his “uniform” is a beat-up t-shirt, jeans, work boots, and (nicely incongruous) a short red cape. Clark Kent is a dirt-poor struggling social activist journalist; he hasn’t even met Lois Lane yet. Lots of familiar landmarks, of course, but bracing nonetheless (and all without having to go all the way back to Krypton, Smallville and the Kents, which we’ve seen umpteen times in recent years). Rags Morales’ art is a great compliment to this style, being classic (in a Neal Adams or George Perez way) without being an overt rehash. Recommendation: Pull

Animal Man #1 – written by Jeff Lemire, art by Travel Foreman and Dan Green

A-Man’s Vertigo run was legendary, though he’s not been much in the mainline DCU for a while (a great run in 52 nothwithstanding). As many of the Vertigo and Wildstorm characters are now fully part of the DCU, the trick is to maintain that slight edginess while keeping it stylistically consistent. Lemire (currently writing the acclaimed Vertigo post-apocalyptic oddity Sweet Tooth) has a great grasp on this challenge, balancing conventional superheroics and Vertigo weirdness. There’s a deliberate resonance with Alan Moore’s Watchmen (the first page, a mock magazine interview, in particular), and some nice, vaguely David Lynchian moments as well (the last page, which pegs high on the weirdometer). Moreover, there’s an intriguing cast of characters (Buddy Baker’s family), and a compelling serial pull already. Really looking forward to seeing where this is going. Recommendation: Pull

Batgirl #1 – written by Gail Simone, art by Adrian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes

This is arguably the toughest relaunch of the entire line. While the wider public might remember Barbara Gordon as the original Batgirl, in the DCU for the last 20 years she’s instead been Oracle: paralyzed after the Joker’s assault (in Alan Moore’s classic The Killing Joke) and limited to a wheelchair, but functioning as the strategic and technological leader of the Birds of Prey (alongside her “soldiers” Black Canary, Huntress, Zinda Blake and others). She was the smartest, most powerful woman in the DCU, and didn’t need a spandex costume to prove it. In addition, her successors as Batgirl, Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, had become compelling, popular characters in their own right. In a case of well-intentioned misfiring, DC has opted to bring Barbara Gordon back to Batgirl (the other two characters are rumored to be “out there” in the DCU ready to be reintroduced, however). Awkwardly, the events of The Killing Joke happened in this relaunch: Barbara was paralyzed for three years, but “miraculously” recovered (i.e., probably as one of the many side effects of the Flash’s universe-reconfiguring run in Flashpoint #5). So, we’ve got a powerful differently abled character “saved” from the wheelchair and reintroduced as a smart young hottie in spandex. Oof. That said, Gail Simone is hands-down the best writer to take on this task, having written Oracle for many years in BoP. While the narrative box will unfortunately be tighter than what she was able to do on BoP (and the deliciously twisted and criminally underrated Secret Six), I’ve no doubt she’ll invest the character and title with as much as she can under the circumstances. As a clean start, it’s not bad, with Babs as a kind of Veronica Mars with a cape. It’ll ultimately succeed on how much it can escape the shadow of this mourned past. Recommendation: Ponder

Batwing #1 – written by Judd Winick, art by Ben Oliver

One of the most intriguing characters to emerge from the past year’s Batman Inc. storyline (as Bruce Wayne/Batman mentored and bankrolled similar heroes across the planet), Batwing takes the idea of Batman to central Africa. The main character’s (David Zamvimbi) alter ego is a police detective, and this provides a great narrative perspective. This is also an Africa that’s based on real situations (e.g., child soldiers, warlords, stressed states), but also firmly in the DCU (with superheroes and villains). This setting alone is intriguing, and a great change from the usual Gotham City/Metropolis/outer space DC locales, although it does share Gotham’s penchant for gruesome, bloody villains, apparently.  Judd Winick’s always had a great ear for crunchier dialogue and intrigue, and is well-suited for this title. That said, Ben Oliver’s gorgeous and terrifying art is the star attraction; this is one of the best-looking and compelling of the new books. That said, occasional incoherence (the uncanny valley of photorealistic, Alex Ross-ish comic art) crops up in places, but I’d expect that to subside down the line. Recommendation: Pull

Detective Comics #1 – written by Tony Daniel, art by Tony Daniel

This is the Coke Classic of the reboot, with a violent, down and dirty Batman vs. Joker first course to set the tone, but leading to a larger menace (as the jaw-dropping last two pages indicate). We’ve certainly been here before, but if there’s one thing the last few decades of DC has shown, it’s really hard to go wrong with Batman snooping around at night and busting the bad guys. No revamp necessary; everybody gets Batman by now. If you’ve read just about any post-Dark Knight Returns Batman story, this is tasty comfort food. Fantastic Tony Daniel art as well (love the early two-page spread of the Gotham skyline in particular), but I’m guessing he won’t be able to keep up with both writing and pencilling the title for long. Recommendation: Pull

Green Arrow #1 – written by J.T. Krul, art by Dan Jurgens and George Perez

Green Arrow (aka Oliver Queen) has long been a cult favorite of DC fans, the snarky wiseass with a proudly bleeding heart, a taste for a fight, and a stormy relationship with Dinah Lance (Black Canary). He was still a fun character in Judd Winick’s mid-00s run, but has gotten less interesting with each readjustment. They went with a full-on reboot, the most jarring of any of DC’s front line (then again, we haven’t gotten to Wonder Woman yet…). After being a 40something cranky liberal playboy for decades, Ollie’s now a 25 year-old cocky idealist tech wunderkind, with a small support team and HQ. The overall tone is reminiscent of a 1990s syndicated action series, full of action poses, flashing computers, and pious moralizing. On top of that, Jurgens and Perez’ art, while certainly up to their usual high standards, is sadly unadventurous, standard superhero style. Nothing wrong with the book, but nothing all that interesting either. Recommendation: Pass

Hawk and Dove #1 – written by Sterling Gates, art by Rob Liefeld

I’ve never understood the appeal of these gimmicky one-dimensional 1970s characters, but some fans love ’em. Hawk is all anger and aggression, while Dove just wants to solve problems and keep the peace. Get it?  This reboot delivers standard action set pieces and typical first-issue exposition. As with Green Arrow, the story isn’t taking any apparent chances, or detours from usual superhero drama and shenanigans. The two diversions it does make (both concerning Dove) actually require some knowledge of previous continuity to register in any significant way. Rob Liefeld’s art is notoriously polarizing: while some hailed him as a maverick and genius in the 1980s and 1990s, others despised his spiky, overbearing style. I’m in the latter camp, and this issue did nothing to sway me: everyone’s jagged and grimacing, as if constantly constipated. You really don’t want to see that in comics, or anywhere. Recommendation: Pass

Justice League International #1 – written by Dan Jurgens, art by Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan

This is one DC’s greatest concepts of the past 25 years, and was ripe to revive. This has a great pedigree, as Jurgens has been writing and drawing many of these characters off and on for years. There’s lots of potential for ensemble drama and comedy, as it was in its “bwah-ha-ha” heyday under J.M. DeMatteis and Keith Giffen in the 1980s and 1990s. That said, this version is relatively straight-up so far, with a more serious Booster Gold and Guy Gardner facing off. The story and style aren’t pushing any envelopes, but at least they’re going more interesting places than either Green Arrow or Hawk & Dove. That said, new character Godiva adds some spicy wisecracking, as does Rocket Red (though they need to keep a leash on his Yakov Smirnoff dialogue). As a team book that’s not exactly Justice League, this might fit the bill. Recommendation: Ponder

Men of War #1 – written by Ivan Brandon, art by Tom Derenick; backup feature written by Jonathan Vankin, art by Phil Winslade

This was certainly an intriguing concept, updating the classic WWII-era Sgt. Rock war comic to a contemporary, DCU setting. However, it feels surprisingly satisfied with knocking off Call Of Duty videogame cliches (e.g., lots of callout boxes explaining acronyms, as if the reader just pushed the “menu” button on their controller), instead of engaging more with possibilities at a narrative and meta level. After the compelling accounts of war in Vertigo’s DMZ and the Unknown Soldier, as well as many indie works of the past decade, and some revealing graphic journalism, this feels like a retrograde step that avoids controversy in favor of mundane soldier stuff. The title should have been a dead giveaway in this regard, I suppose. On top of that, the art is even fairly pedestrian as well, aiming for Joe Kubert-level pathos, but not getting there. Recommendation: Pass

OMAC #1 – story and art by Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen

Speaking of emulating the masters, here’s some rehashed Jack Kirby. This is the weakest of the books so far, attempting to revive this Kirby character and milieu in a full-on replication of Kirby’s art and sensibility. In the wake of the Kirby estate’s ongoing lawsuit against Marvel, it’s probably not the best idea they could’ve gone with. Longtime DC writers and editors DiDio and Giffen loves them some Kirby, and they’re clearly having fun with running with this concept. However, it feels a bit much like this was funnier and more exciting for them than for us. If we want Kirby-esque action, we can go back and read some actual Kirby, rather than an odd homage (or even the brilliantly nuts Gødland). Recommendation: Pass

Static Shock #1 – written by Scott McDaniel and John Rozum, art by Scott McDaniel, Jonathan Glapion and LeBeau Underwood

This is more what this reboot should have been doing: focusing on interesting, underutilized (and unburdened by too much continuity) characters. In this case, Static is one of the handful of great and much-missed African-American Milestone characters introduced in the mid 1990s and then sadly ignored for many years. Unlike the rest of those characters, Static’s had a somewhat wider media life, including a DC Animated series, and has been popular enough to surface every now and then. Hopefully this title can be a launchpad for other Milestone characters (Hardware looks to be a regular, for one), because it does exactly what it should do: lots of action (propelled by McDaniel’s dynamic layouts and expressive pencils), and just enough serial intrigue to hook new readers. Nothing paradigm-shattering, but certainly satisfying superhero drama and action. If anything, it feels a bit like DC’s answer to Bendis and Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man, which is not a bad place to start. Recommendation: Pull

Stormwatch #1 – written by Paul Cornell, art by Miguel Sepulveda

One of the boldest of the new titles, by one of the boldest comics writers today, Stormwatch folds the cult Wildstorm team into the DCU, and it’s a perfect fit. While the team was essentially the Wildstorm universe’s Justice League, here they’re more like the Torchwood of superhero teams: secretly protecting humanity from all sorts of magical and extra-terrestrial threats for centuries. Cornell elegantly introduces the team and starts unfolding the story in witty and intriguing scenes as some of them track down and recruit a new member (with a nice shout-out to real people slash fiction), and others investigate mysteries in the Himalayas and on the moon that look to be setting something big indeed for the whole DCU. Martian Manhunter, always one of the oddest ducks of the JLA, is a perfect addition to this motley crew. And Apollo and Midnighter? Still comics’ top gay superhero couple, and here we see them meet for the first time. My favorite new book thus far. Recommendation: Pull

Swamp Thing #1  – written by Scott Snyder, art by Yanick Paquette

This reboot was planned to come out of Brightest Day, but was pushed back to be part of the new 52 relaunch. While those initial scars are still there (including probably a bit too much continuity and fanwank for a first issue), this looks to be one of the more thought-provoking and challenging of the new books, as befits the character’s legacy. Alec Holland’s not quite sure about this “swamp thing” figure in this first issue, but is haunted by foreboding nightmares about plants. This is as good a place as any to set this series in motion again, though dragging in Batman, Superman and Aquaman from the get-go is a bit much. Still, Snyder’s given Holland an interesting voice, and Paquette’s meticulous artwork is gaudy and gorgeous; the layout alone in the last several pages is reason enough to give this a shot. Not a knockout debut, but certainly compelling enough to continue. Recommendation: Pull

Posted in Comics. 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “DC’s New 52: Week 1”

  1. greenlightcomics1 Says:

    Great article, you seem to have similar tastes as I do in DC. Unfortunately for me I’ve got to wait the extra month because I’m going all digital. Having to tiptoe around the internet in regards to reviews.

    • dkompare Says:

      With all the previews and early reviews, I’ve had to avoid a lot as well! I try not to know much at all beyond the cover art until I get my hands on each issue.

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