DC’s New 52: Week 3

Wonder Woman #1, art by Cliff ChiangFalling behind a bit, but such is academic life. We’re deep in the run of second issues already, but here are my thoughts on Week 3 of the relaunch, with far and away the most controversial of the new books. Week 4 will follow shortly.

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.

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Batman #1 – Written by Scott Snyder, art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion

This is one of the most assured books in the reboot, smoothly continuing Grant Morrison’s setup, and locating Bruce Wayne at its center. Most importantly, this isn’t a one-note brooding Batman: he’s got a dry wit and a definite soft spot for his three sons (Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne). His detection skills are on full display as well, leading to the shock climax (with repercussions with Nightwing in particular). Capullo is a good match for this style, similar to Cameron Stewart or even Kevin O’Neill, with just enough exaggeration and flourish to keep the tone fantastic rather than grim. One of the definitive cornerstones of the new era. Recommendation: Pull.

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Birds of Prey #1 – Written by Duane Swiweczynski, art by Jesus Saiz
Despite having some significant fears (no Gail Simone?!?), I found this book to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the entire batch. Swiericzynski pulls back a bit on the banter and  madcap tone that defined Simone’s run, and instead gives us a story that’s not only well-paced and action-packed, but also surprisingly grounded, with well-drawn (in every sense of the word) characters and a distinctive team vibe. Moreover, unlike a few other titles this week, this is a comic that respects women beyond their appearance. Saiz’ style is conventional but fresh: there’s no doubt Black Canary, Starling, and Katana are superheroes, but they’re defined much more by their intelligence and actions than by their cleavage. While we’re still a long, long way from gender equity in mainstream comics, Birds of Prey (alongside Batwoman and the new Wonder Woman, and so far, the new Supergirl) is a solid step in the right direction. Recommendation: Pull.
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Blue Beetle #1 – Written by Tony Bedard, art by Ig Guara and Ruy Jose
Arguably the only truly interesting character created at DC in the 2000s, Jaime Reyes was a lock to return to the DCU as Blue Beetle. All of the elements of his high school and family life in El Paso are retained, with a few subtle shifts (Brenda’s Tia Amparo now lives on the US side of the border), enabling these relationships to continue (if started from scratch again). The most significant change has to do with the Beetle scarab itself. While its powers and intentions were always a bit mysterious in the last version, here the reader is presented with the scarab as a weapon of invasion of subjugation, and a long-time foe of the Green Lanterns. Jaime doesn’t know this yet (the scarab has just infected him at the end of the issue), but his version of the “power/responsibility” superhero dynamic looks to be more challenging this go around. While this likely means this darker take won’t be as Buffy-esque in its humor as the original, it will certainly keep things intriguing if played right. Too early to commit, but the potential is there. Recommendation: Ponder.
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Captain Atom #1 – Written by J.T. Krul, art by Freddie Williams II
Oddly, one of the most forgettable of the titles, and I’m not sure why. It’s tone and remit screamed Watchmen‘s Dr. Manhattan, so much so that I’m still sure DC has something up its sleeve to actually go there. But so far it feels more derivative and less a homage to Moore and Gibbons’ character. There’s nothing wrong with the story and art; I like Williams’ new character design. There’s nothing all that remarkable about it either. I may give it one more issue to see if the Dr. Manhattan allusions go anywhere, or if Krul can successfully advance a completely different take on this idea (the near omniscient science-created super-being), but otherwise there’s nothing compelling here. Recommendation: Ponder.
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Catwoman #1 – Written by Judd Winick, art by Guillem March
I really wanted to like this. I even re-read it a few days later to give it a second shot, but nope, there’s now no doubt: this is a tragic failure. Selina Kyle was one of the five best characters in DC in the 2000s, a model superhero who worked by her own code, which often left her stuck between the more conventional battle lines. Unfortunately, this relaunch basically channels her self-esteem away from the grim determination and sheer smarts she showed in her 2000s run and towards her body. More specifically, her breasts, with many panels featuring them perilously close to spilling out of lacy D-cups. While the situations presented could be intriguing (if not so narratively confused), Winick and March rely entirely on the suggestive appearance of her body. The hugely controversial spur of the moment hook-up with Batman that closes the issue is actually narratively and thematically fine (it’s certainly happened before); it’s the execution here that’s so, so wrong, culminating in a page causing many to ponder the design of each of their costumes, and the sexual maturity of both writer and artist. Don’t even give this a look; hopefully DC will end this travesty shortly. Instead, read the fantastic run of Ed Brubaker, Darwyn Cooke and Cameron StewartRecommendation: Pass.
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DC Universe Presents #1 – Written by Paul Jenkins, art by Bernard Chang
This is a great title to resurrect, because it offers stories featuring characters that may not be enough of a draw for their own book. This is the perfect sort of short-term relationship with a title that many readers are seeking. Deadman kicks things off here, with a moody and effective first issue that introduces him to new readers, centering on his voice. Boston Brand was more or less the star of Brightest Day, and that’s the version we get here as well: sad, regretful, resigned to his fate, but also dutiful. The twist at the end is that precisely who or what he’s being dutiful for may have betrayed him. Great story, and great art from Chang. Recommendation: Pull.
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Green Lantern Corps #1 – Written by Peter J. Tomasi, art by Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna
Another week, another GL book. This one’s not bad for what it is, actually. Centered on the odd couple of Guy Gardner and John Stewart, GLC focuses less on threats to Earth and more on the galactic scope of the Lanterns. In this case, it’s the threat posed by an invisible baddie slicing right through Lanterns. Pretty grisly stuff in the opening pages, but done well enough for what it is. Again, I’m just underwhelmed by the entire concept of the Green Lanterns, so this book isn’t quite for me. Recommendation: Pass.
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Legion of Super-Heroes #1 – Written by Paul Levitz, art by Francis Portela
Sigh. You think there’s a lot of X-Men? There are no fewer than 16 Legionnaires featured in this issue alone. While some of them can be intriguing in doses, the overall effect is disorienting. Who are these people? What’s going on? Again, as with Legion Lost, this seems to be written exclusively for existing Legion fans and nobody else. I expected something a bit more open and pragmatic from Paul Levitz. Portela’s art is passable, but limited due to the sheer scope of settings and characters involved. Recommendation: Pass.
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Nightwing #1 – Written by Kyle Higgins, art by Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer
Not a radical reboot here, and more of a return, like slipping on a favorite jacket found in the back of the closet. Dick’s done with being Temp Batman, and back to being Nightwing, with a clean slate to start things off (no apparent backstory with either Barbara Gordon or Koriand’r), though he’s visiting his old circus and opening those wounds. In addition, he’s the target of a new violent assassin (a storyline that ties into the flagship Batbook). This is meat-and-potatoes stuff, competently done, with lots of interior monologues and a couple of well staged fight scenes. Its lack of grand ambition (thus far) is almost refreshing, but it may take a bit more to make it more than a passable but thoroughly inconsequential part of the DCU. Recommendation: Ponder.
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Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 – Written by Scott Lobdell, art by Kenneth Rocafort
When people who don’t read comics complain about comics, it’s issues like these that unfortunately show they might have a point. This issue embodies what way too many people working in comics apparently consider “mature” material. See, this is “grown-up” stuff precisely because the characters are violent, amoral and have emotionless sex. While all three principals (Jason Todd/Red Hood, Roy Harper/Arsenal, and Koriand’r/Starfire) have been substantial characters in the past, here they only exist to look cool and spout zingers. The most insulting thing about the much-derided bikini page isn’t as much that Starfire looks like that as it’s presented as the end-all of her character. As several reviewers and fans have noted, this approach takes the Starfire girls might have loved from the DC Animated Teen Titans (2003-06) and turns her into a sexbot. This feels cold and calculated all the way through, aiming precisely for the 15 year-old lizard brain of het masculinity. The saddest part is that both Lobdell and Rocafort are and have done better; this is beneath them. Recommendation: Pass.
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Supergirl #1 – Written by Michael Green and Mike Johnson, art by Mahmud Asrar
Supergirl was another one of the intriguing female characters potentially cut short by the reboot. While she’s certainly been controversial (particularly in the first couple years of this iteration of the character, which made her out to be a panty-flashing badass), she’s also been a good counter to Superman. Thankfully, this relaunch distills the most intriguing parts of her character (in particular the fact that she has memories of life on Krypton, and is thus much more Kryptonian than Superman), and puts us in her shiny red boots as an outsider who finds herself on our primitive world. The writing and the art complement each other well: lean and assured, keeping to the basics. She’s portrayed here as understandably disoriented, but also strong, smart and resourceful, and far from the hypersexualized fembot she could have been. One to keep an eye on. Recommendation: Pull.
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Wonder Woman #1 – Written by Brian Azzarello, art by Cliff Chiang
This is the book of the week. WW is the character that everyone wants to succeed, but whose books have always been overshadowed and underappreciated by the readership. She’s been an integral part of the action in recent years (particularly in the aftermath of her murder of Maxwell Lord), with great runs written by Greg Rucka and Gail Simone (respectively). Unfortunately, the last run, by J. Michael Straczynski, hasn’t been as assured. Thankfully, Azzarello and Chiang are well up to the task of forging a new Wonder Woman. They draw from the best of the older versions of her character, delving back in particular to the essence of Greek mythology, and present a tough, no-nonsense, decisive, no-BS heroine. The tone is one of vague supernatural menace, with moments of shocking but quiet violence, and silent panels of movement and action. This is clearly the best of the new books, with a fearless ambition and style. Highly, highly recommended. Recommendation: Pull.

Bonus: Here’s another Laura Hudson piece, with comics creators discussing the representation of women, and what can be done about it.

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